Twelve Nights opens with a child’s worst nightmare (or one of them anyway) – when Kay and Eloise’s clearly peed-off mother bundles her daughters into a car and drives to her husband’s college to pick him up from work, they discover he isn’t there. In fact, the staff at the college insists he has never worked there and they don’t recognise his name at all. The children’s father has been removed but removed by whom and for what reason it’s impossible to guess. And then eleven-year-old Kay hears the voices at her window and realises she can see people that no-one else can. So her quest to reunite her family begins, and it will take Kay through the air, above the mountains and across worlds on a perilous journey of danger and self-discovery where Kay can trust nobody and dark magic lies waiting.
There’s a statement on the back cover that makes us unsure whether to be insanely envious of author Zurcher or feel incredibly sorry for him, ‘Twelve Nights is Andrew Zurcher’s debut novel… Prepare to be transported to a world of magical storytelling as powerful and imaginative as Narnia, as Lyra’s Oxford, as the BFG’s Dream Country…’
Wow. Comparing anyone’s debut to the genius of C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and Roald Dahl is an enormously brave declaration of intent, and immediately sets up the reader for either astonishment or disappointment. Or somewhere between the two, which is pretty much where this book lies.
It’s a great beginning. Kay’s a lovely protagonist. The jeopardy is strong and Zurcher’s use of language is beautiful. He’s a lyricist of an author which makes this not insubstantial novel quite easy to read. However, it’s also very slow and although it’s obviously aimed at a universal audience (quoting the publisher’s blurb on the back cover again: ‘(Twelve Nights) will send shivers up your spine - whether you are nine or ninety-nine’), it will probably leave a lot of the younger readers a little bored and confused. Heck, by the midpoint of the book, this reader wasn’t even entirely clear on what was going on but we loved Zurcher’s prose so much that we kept ploughing ahead. We’re glad we did, but it still left us with a lot of questions afterwards - tiny problems with the set-up and the worldbuilding that are never properly explained by the climax. Twelve Nights tries so hard to be magical but unfortunately, it’s that ‘the Wizard of Oz is really a dude behind a curtain’ kind of magic, when all the pizzazz and fireworks turn out to be a bit blander and more of a damp squib than we thought they’d be. It’s lucky that the publisher didn’t include JK Rowling in that back cover lovefest because we have a feeling that the day after they bought this one a lot of disgruntled Harry Potter fans would be ‘Expelliarmus’ing it back to the bookshop.
Older kids with patience and a sophisticated vocabulary may enjoy Twelve Nights and older readers who have never taken their Neverending Story poster off their wall may like it too, but unfortunately, this isn’t the instant classic it’s promoted to be.
TWELVE NIGHTS / AUTHOR: ANDREW ZURCHER / PUBLISHER: PUFFIN /RELEASE DATE: APRIL 5TH