Review: The Forbidden Library / Author: Django Wexler / Publisher: Doubleday Childrens / Release Date: April 10th
Young Adult fantasy is extremely popular of late, with several authors turning their hand to writing for a younger audience. Django Wexler is the latest, with his novel The Forbidden Library, the back cover of which welcomes the reader to ‘your new favourite adventure’, but only after reminding them of Narnia and Wonderland. While such blurb may be risky, it serves to entice the reader to step between the covers.
Wexler introduces Alice, a plucky young heroine who is promptly orphaned and sent away to live with the mysterious Mr Geryon, a relative she didn’t realise she had. His house is old, suitably dark and foreboding, and contains the titular library. Alice gains entry, finding that there is a world within each book; pulled into one of them, her only chance of escape is to conquer whatever dangers lurk within. While all this may sound like Wexler is simply using all the usual ingredients, it’s the way he mixes them together that gives the book its strength. His writing is top-notch, never patronising, making his world come to vivid life. Even the library itself feels alive; it’s a fascinating, dangerous place, dark and ever changing, yet filled with wonders overflowing from the pages of the books on its shelves.
Alice herself is a believable heroine, greater than the sum of her parts; she is scared as well as amazed, and the writing is such that we feel it along with her. Like her, we’re being taken on a journey, one that is heart-breaking as well as triumphant. The characters she encounters are equally as interesting, from the mysterious old relative to the talking cat (trust me, it works), each of them with their own agendas, leaving Alice and the reader to guess what they may be.
The author’s comments state that the book started as ‘something of a lark’, a change from his usual epic fantasy. It’s an experiment that’s truly paid off, a refreshing and unique tale – one that rises above the clichés it could so easily have fallen into – that entertains on every level. It’s pitched perfectly to its audience (as well as those who are a few years older...) and, while only time will tell if it becomes a classic, it treats the familiar tropes with care and respect, leaving the reader wanting more after the final page has been turned.