Frederic Durbin,
(Arkham House, 1999)

Dragonfly is the eponymous spunky 10-/11-year-old heroine of Frederic Durbin's novel Dragonfly, who narrates the story in a very sophisticated voice (reminiscing about events as a much older person, I think). The tale is set in recent rural mid-America and describes how she and her funeral parlor-owner Uncle Henry, with whom she is staying, discover that their basement is a gateway to a whole subterranean world of "dark" gothic beings living in an eternal autumnal twilight.

Uncle Henry calls on Mothkin, an old friend with mysterious skills and knowledge, to help find a way to combat the dwellers of the underground world they discover is called Harvest Moon. Mothkin and Dragonfly together enter this bizarre realm and, during their efforts to foil a plot to turn the upper world into a copy of the lower world by Harvest Moon's sinister leader Hain, they experience a series of exciting and scary adventures in which the familiar troupes of the horror genre (vampires, werewolves, ghoulish creatures, sentient shadows) are used in clever and surprising ways. The protagonists find some very surprising and interesting allies as well.

Normally I don't care for the horror genre, but I'm glad I was willing to give this one a try because it was so imaginative and rich in atmosphere -- creating suspense, not relying on gross-outs and gore, which here were kept to tolerable minimum. This ingenious good vs. evil yarn was clearly underpinned by Christian morality and sensibility but not in any overtly preachy way -- it was just there. The book also includes wonderful black-and-white illustrations that perfectly capture the mood and characters of the story.

This is a perfect book for the Halloween season (think of an even more twisted version of A Nightmare Before Christmas) and worth a try for something different and for those delightful chills up the spine you get from a great suspense yarn!

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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