My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bod Owens is a normal boy, except for the fact that he has been raised by ghosts and a vampire and lives in a graveyard.
An assassin of legendary reputation has been given a simple job or wiping out the Dorian family. He kills Mum and Dad, easily enough, and the little girl tucked in her bed with her teddy too. But somehow baby Dorian has escaped from his cot, slid downstairs using his nappy to cushion his bottom and slipped out of the front door that Jack neglected to close behind himself. But Jack soon picks up his trail that leads him up a hill to a grave-yard so old that its become a nature-reserve. But at the graveyard the baby’s trail disappears. This is the first-time that he has failed to complete a job and Jack is avowed that he will one day finish what he has started. The baby, however, has not disappeared. At the bequest of his dead mother, the graveyard’s ghosts have agreed to give the baby the freedom of the graveyard, to be raised by Mr and Mrs Owen (who hadn’t had children during their lives) and with Silas (the vampire) to be his godfather and bring him food. Bod grows up to learn everything that the ghosts of his graveyard can teach him, including a number of supernatural powers, like turning invisible and walking through walls. He’s going to need all of his abilities soon, because Jack is still outside somewhere looking for him.
The book follows Bod in the latter half of his childhood, though his misadventures and lessons in life (and death) from the odd denizens of the graveyard. Despite his strange upbringing and postcode, Bod comes across as a normal boy, curious about the world around him (and beneath him), bored off lessons and somewhat lonely. His friends consist of a long dead, but still young at heart and in appearance, witch and a living girl called Scarlett who has to move away after visiting an ancient tomb beneath hill. This being a Neil Gaiman book, we are also treated to a whole panoply of quirky characters, including the ghosts of the graveyard, ranging from Roman Britain up to the Victorian period, Silas, the velvet wearing vampire, and a bunch of ghouls (notable mentions, the Bishop of Bath and the Duke of Wellington). It is the vast supporting cast that really make this book so enjoyable and worth reading.
The main setting of the story is the graveyard itself, with its little chapel, Egyptian walkway, a ghoul gate and its unhallowed ground. Really, the graveyard is as much a character in the book as its stuffy and mortified residents, to the point that through reading the book, the graveyard will become as familiar a place to you as it is to Bod, and you will be able to sense its moods too. There are a few brief detours during the course of the book to a secondary school, Scarlett’s house, the Dorian house, the ghouls’ world and Africa too.
This book is pitched by the publisher as a children’s novel/YA, but the opening is rather chilling and serious. Despite the intended audience, Gaiman writes as flawlessly as ever, never condescending in tone or style, and that will no doubt be a huge factor in the longevity and universal appeal of this book. Its definitely made favorite books list and is amongst Gaiman’s best.
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