James Stoddard,
The High House
(Warner, 1998)

James Stoddard's debut novel The High House is a masterful tribute to classic fantasy authors as well as a compelling and enchanting tale in its own right.

Many children think of their homes as the hub of the universe, but little does Carter Anderson guess that his house is the Hub of the Universe. It is true that it is large, and visitors in exotic and strange clothing seem to wander in and out of it, but for Carter this is simply the way his world is. His father, Lord Ashton Anderson, often travels far from home, and one day, Carter witnesses his father's return through a door in a part of the house which is normally off limits. This strange return, as well as the huge and curious collection of Master Keys his father carries, piques Carter's curiosity, but his father will not answer his questions fully.

Then Evil in the form of a Bobby is invited into the garden, and he steals the Master Keys. After two horrifying and life-threatening experiences, Carter is sent away. When he returns as a grown man, he finds that his vast High House encompasses many countries and kingdoms, and he is now the Steward of them all. But High House is in trouble from the "anarchists" who seek to harness Order and Chaos to their own means. It is up to Carter to face his nemesis, find the Master Keys, and take his place as the Master of High House -- if he can.

The narrative is compelling, drawing the reader along, and the language is rich and textured. The House comes alive through the careful and detailed description of its various areas sections, right down to wallpaper patterns and carpet colors, but this is no catalogue of furniture and textiles. Stoddard builds suspense slowly, guiding the reader inexorably: there is no putting down this book easily. Carter's character reveals itself gradually as it develops and he comes into his own, and even some of the evil characters can be said to be well-intentioned, if misguided.

Stoddard pays tribute to writers such as Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, C.S. Lewis, William Morris, George MacDonald and others in ways both subtle and obvious. One character is named William Hope, a tribute to supernatural fiction writer William Hope Hodgson, and Carter's first name is a nod to Lin Carter, editor of the Sign of the Unicorn series published in the early 1970s and to whom the book is dedicated. I am ashamed to say that I missed many of the references within, but the story is not dependent upon such recognition, and it only inspires me to search out and read these authors. If you're familiar with them, then you'll love The High House. And if you're not ... race you to the bookstore!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy The High House from Amazon.com.