Friday Favorites is a weekly event where I review books that I love--my absolute favorite books that you MUST read if you haven't already. MUSTMUSTMUST.
This week's pick is The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding.
Thaniel, just seventeen, is a wych-hunter. Together, he and Cathaline--his friend and mentor--track down the fearful creatures that lurk in the Old Quarter of London. It is on one of these hunts that he first encounters Alaizabel Cray. Alaizabel is half-crazed, lovely, and possessed.Whatever dreadful entity has entered her soul has turned her into a strange and unearthly magnet--attracting evil and drawing horrors from every dark corner. Cathaline and Thaniel must discover its cause--and defend humanity at all costs.
It's deplorable that The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray is not more widely known in the US. Since it's release in 2004, it's garnered rave reviews and awards in the UK--but hasn't gone on to achieve the widespread fame that it deserves.
Dark, gothic, and utterly gripping, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray tells the story of one Thaniel Fox--seventeen, orphaned and already a well-seasoned wychhunter. In Wooding's alternative version of Victorian London, all hell has been unleashed since the the Vernichtung--the bombing of London by the Prussians. Strange, savage monsters have inexplicably appeared and come to stay; infesting London and preying on innocent city-dwellers. Wychhunting, a thankless and indescribably dangerous profession, has arisen as the chief way to protect citizens and keep the monsters at bay. Thaniel's deceased father was the most infamous of hunters, and now Thaniel too hunts creatures by night.
Within the first scene, Thaniel has already sprung into action--using magic and pigs blood to track down a baby-stealing cradlejack, while silver airships hover above and the fog swirls around him.
"So deeply intent was he on keeping from toppling that he was a moment to slow in raising his pistol. A dark, scrawny shape, a flash of insane amber eyes and short, needle-pointed teeth, and then the roar of the pistol and terrifying weightlessness as he knew his balance failed him."And immediately afterward, poor boy, Thaniel is attacked by a delirious, half-mad girl.
But this girl isn't what she seems. Her name is Alaizabel Cray, and she's possessed. Thaniel is drawn to her and decides to shelter her, despite the terrible danger and evilness of the spirit that resides deep within her. And since Alaizabel can remember precious little, an aura of mystery hangs about her. Readers will be desperate to know how a well-bred, kind girl has been reduced to such a despairing situation. Because she is haunted, the monsters are drawn to her. In one scene, a creature is hiding in her room:
"It is not there! something screamed inside her, her rational mind beating frantically at her whirling panic, fighting to cage it again. It is but a shadow, just a shadow!Alaizabel's descent into darkness closely mirrors that of London's--what had once stood in glory is now decaying around the edges. Add in the Fraternity, a secret society involved in a conspiracy, a pyschopathic mass murderer named Stich-Face, and an increase in monster attacks to to the mix, and London may be on it's dying legs.
But it was there, and it radiated an evil so thick that she felt that she might gag on it; a thing with no shape and no form, yet she could feel it's eyes, staring at her unflinchingly, regarding her with a dread gaze."
Perhaps the genius of this novel is most fully realized in the atmosphere that Wooding creates with his alternative world. This book would most likely be classified as steampunk, with the Victorian influences, airships, and indecipherable historic events that are wholly different from our own. The world is more than three-dimensional--every aspect is fully fleshed out, from asylums to police detectives to beggars to mass murderers to high society. And this book is terrifying in it's possibilities--the chill and the dankness of London, the utter despair, the hopeless uncertainty of a world that could have been ours.
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray is saturated with dense, atmospheric descriptions, and as a result, the world of Thaniel and Alaizabel will haunt you long after you've put the book down. The monsters will lurk in the shadows of your house. The creakings of your bedroom door will seem to signify the coming of Stitchface, ready with a knife. The beating of the airplanes above your house may be mistaken for the "long, lined dull smear" of a lumbering airship.
Teeming with richly imagined descriptions, a suspenseful plot, and horrifying events, The Haunting of Alaizabel is a truly magnificent piece of work. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Golden Compass and Sabriel, and is absolutely astounding in it's inventiveness.
And above all?