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For Young Readers

‘Haunting of Alaizabel Cray’ conclusion worth the wait

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Posted: May 25, 2007 5:07 p.m.
Updated: June 9, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    In the late 1700s, Gothic fiction made its debut in the European literature scene with Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Ontranto,” a novel that blended romantic and horror genres to create an entirely new writing style. The genre endured more than a century, with the most well-known product of Gothic fiction being Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Since Dracula, few Gothic novels have been truly immortal in the public mind, but many authors keep Gothic literature on the shelves for readers to enjoy.  Chris Wooding, a native Briton with an impressive history as a writer already, is one of these authors whose book recalls both a romantic and frightening story and setting.  The book?  “The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray,” set in an unusual Victorian London almost dominated by demonic entities known as wych-kin.
    The book’s protagonist, Thaniel Fox, makes his living killing the wych-kin and keeping London reasonably safe from the creatures.  On one occasion, Thaniel discovers a teenaged girl wandering in the demon-infested alleys, and takes her home, believing her to be mad. The girl, Alaizabel Cray, turns out to be more than mad—she is possessed by the ghost of a woman known only as Thatch; the reasons for her possession are at first unknown.  
    Elsewhere in London, a supposed serial killer has been committing murders in a distinct pattern. The sites of the murders make something of a connect-the-dots picture when placed on a map of London.  The image formed is ominous in nature, and may spell the end of human residence in the city.  Both Alaizabel’s possession and the increased murders are connected, but Thaniel Fox may not discover how until the first decisive battle between the wych-kin and humans occurs.
    “The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray” is a complicated novel, not without its share of horrific images and themes.  Intended for older preteens and mature readers, the book cannot serve younger audiences, yet it is a book worth reading.  “The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray” is not pure horror or gore.  Believable yet unusual characters, fascinating description, and intriguing plot sets this novel apart from the Dracula wannabes and dime store horror paperbacks.  Mature yet straightforward prose gives the impression that Chris Wooding, unlike many fiction writers, is not in love with his own novel; instead, Wooding focuses on telling a complicated tale at a steady pace.  If readers can be patient as plot details are unraveled, and make it to the end of the book, they will have enjoyed a book with classic themes and completely original plot.
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