Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Lunatic’s Curse Book Review

Author: F.E. Higgins. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends. ISBN: 9780312566821.
Annotation: Rex Grammaticus suspects his new stepmother, Acantha, is responsible for his father’s sudden insanity, especially when his father is committed to the sinister Droprock Island Asylum for the Peculiar and Bizarre. Rex is certain that his father is not mad, and vows to discover the truth about Acantha, the asylum, and the mysterious society of Andrew Faye.
Personal thoughts:  I was a little concerned about picking this title up at first because I haven’t read the other novels in the series, but since it states clearly in the book jacket that it can be read individually I went ahead and gave it a try. I am glad that I did! As a fan of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, I found myself really enjoying Higgins’ macabre story as much if not more than Lemony Snicket’s novels. I like that Higgins doesn’t “talk-down” to the reader, and uses words and phrases that will make them think. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants something creepy, and think it has a perfect place in the middle-school classroom for reluctant readers.
Plot summary: Twelve-year-old Rex Grammaticus lives a happy life with his father, Ambrose, a renowned inventor in the lakeside town of Oppum Oppidulum. When a mysterious woman, Acantha, seduces Ambrose into marrying her, however, Rex is sure that things are going to take a turn for the worse. Rex’s fears are realized when one fateful evening, his father suddenly suffers from a fit of madness, viciously attacking Rex and even cutting off his own hand. Ambrose is committed to the Droprock Island Asylum for the Peculiar and Bizarre, with the help of Acantha’s good friend and superintendent of the asylum, Cadmus Chapelizod, and his business and fortune are left entirely in Acantha’s care. Rex is certain that his stepmother is responsible for Ambrose’s insanity, and vows to free his father from the torturous asylum.  
Review:  The latest novel in F.E. Higgins’ series for tweens is described as a “polyquel” to the other books, meaning that it can as easily be read as a stand-alone in addition to having some overlap with the other stories. Familiarity with Higgins’ other novels, however, does not determine whether the highly creepy Lunatic’s Curse can be enjoyed by readers: anyone with a slight penchant for the macabre will find this book to be deliciously gruesome and utterly entertaining. From the first pages, the author plunges the reader headfirst into the world of Oppum Oppidulum, a seemingly peaceful lakeside town with more than its fair share of deep, dark secrets. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story is the care that Higgins takes in creating the setting and characters. Each has their own unique back-story and is given the opportunity for development, even if they have only minor roles in the plot. This technique immerses the reader in world of the novel, making the story far more engaging. The storyline is also very creative and unique, and Rex Grammaticus is a very likable protagonist. As a side note, squeamish readers should be aware that Higgins does venture into some fairly dark territory, from murder to torture, and even a dash of cannibalism. These elements are not overpowering, however, and Lunatic’s Curse is not only appropriate for tweens and teens, but thoroughly enjoyable as well (especially for reluctant boy readers!)
Genre: Mystery
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, other titles in Tales of the Sinister City series by F.E. Higgins, including The Eyeball Collector, The Bone Magician, and The Black Book of Secrets.   
Themes:  Mystery, murder, conspiracy, insanity, asylums, machinery, lakes, cannibalism.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist and Kirkus.     
Series Information: Part of a non-sequential series of polyquels by F.E. Higgins, Tales of the Sinister City. Other installments:  The Bone Magician (2008), The Eyeball Collector (2009), and The Black Book of Secrets (2010).  
Discussion questions: 
- What were your original thoughts about why Ambrose went “insane”? Did they change throughout the novel?
- Why do you think the lodestone method was successful?
- Were you surprised to learn the truth about Hildred?
-  Were you surprised to learn the truth about the society of Andrew Faye?
- Do you think Rex did the right thing in his construction of the Re-breather? Why or why not?

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