Rotherweird, not unlike Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, is the kind of literary high adventure that’s dangerous to review – on one hand, it’s such an intricate, complicated, stunningly realised world, that trying to describe it in a few brief sentences won’t do it any justice (and might even spoil one or two of the surprises) while, on the other hand, it’s the kind of book that’s so glorious you’ll want to talk to your friends about it for days afterwards, so even a ten page review would barely scratch the surface.
Here’s what you need to know: you won’t find the town of Rotherweird in the history books. For dark reasons (which may or may not be revealed during the novel), Queen Elizabeth I ordered that Rotherweird should be cut adrift from the rest of England and, ever since then, Rotherweird and its bizarre populous have taken a detour into the sinister: with its claustrophobic streets, arcane sciences and off-the-wall traditions, this definitely isn’t a place for the fainthearted to visit (not that the fainthearted would get very far - there are no guidebooks or maps to Rotherweird and no-one is allowed to ask questions about Rotherweird’s history.) Luckily for us, Jonah Oblong is not faint-of-heart. When he arrives to teach modern history at Rotherweird school, Oblong decides to do some digging into Rotherweird’s past and it’s not long before some dangerous secrets begin to surface. Meanwhile, the mysterious billionaire Sir Veronal Blackstone, who is renovating the town’s long disused Manor House, seems to have stirred up some nastiness of his own. For wildly different reasons, the teacher and the billionaire are suddenly on a historical collision course, blissfully unaware of the apocalyptic malevolence that lies ahead.
Rotherweird is a fabulous ride, but it’s not one of those books you should leave until bedtime. You’ll need to stay alert when you’re reading it because there are a blizzard of twists and turns and so many strange characters that you’ll probably want to take notes if you’re going to solve the mystery before Oblong and Blackstone. But it’s a book that rewards careful attention, is often extremely funny, and is so richly textured and the characters are so expertly drawn that you’ll begin to wonder if a real town called Rotherweird might not actually exist, and author Andrew Caldecott has just given us a privileged peak into its daily life. The illustrations by Aleksandra Laika look lovely as well.
Truly, sinisterly, magical.
ROTHERWEIRD / AUTHOR: ANDREW CALDECOTT / ILLUSTRATIONS: ALEKSANDRA LAIKA / PUBLISHER: JO FLETCHER BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 18TH MAY