By Andrew Zurcher
Published by Puffin
ISBN 978 0 141 38554 9
Twelve Nights begins as it doesn’t mean to go on, which is a little confusing. The opening really does wrong-foot the reader, so patience is needed until the real plot gets going. Andrew Zurcher opens his debut novel on a suspenseful note worthy of a Hitchcock movie or a bestselling adult psychological thriller.
But then, the plot suddenly takes a left turn that throws the reader off guard. Perhaps this is a clever device to unbalance our expectations, just as teenager Kay is unbalanced that dark winter evening when the story starts.
Kay’s university lecturer father is working late, as seems to happen a lot these days. She and her mother go to pick him up, but they are told that no one by the name of Dr Edward More works there.
Kay and her mother return upset, confused and angry.
Later that night, Kay hears voices outside her bedroom window and suddenly two weird-looking men break into her room. They tell her not to be afraid: they are wraiths who have been sent to collect all of her dad’s earthly possessions. All earthly traces of Dr More must be wiped out, the mysterious wraiths explain. They do not say why.
Before she can process this information, Kay and her little sister Elly are captured by the wraiths and taken to the land of Bithynia, a parallel world to our own. Twelve Nights is clearly labelled a fantasy novel, and at last it’s got going on its intended path. Kay has been set up as an interesting protagonist, and her determination to rescue her father is a typical quest needed to motivate the hero of a fantasy story
Kay learns that her father has been taken on the orders of a powerful wraithe called Ghast as part of a dastardly plan to gain complete control of Bithynia. What the unassuming Dr More has to offer Ghast doesn’t become clear until well into the story, and this is one of the threads that will keep you reading.
Fans of the genre who like their fantasy laid on with a shovel will find Twelve Nights a bit of a struggle, but readers who don’t need plots laid out in straight lines will enjoy the challenge of Zurcher’s book. The plot is a bit muddy in places because motives and developments are not always clear. We certainly get fantastic journeys, courageous exploits and dastardly deeds, but it all happens rather slowly.
And despite the impression given by the cover, this is not a book for young readers, but an engrossing read for a mature reader able to cope with a challenging and sometimes obscure work of modern fiction.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org