Saturday, 18 January 2014

Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Every day after school, best friends Zach, Poppy and Alice play together in their incredible fantasy world.  Each kid 'Plays' their action figure to act out elaborate fantasy roles; pirates, pickpockets, witches, sea monsters, all ruled over by the fearsome Queen, an antique Bone China doll belonging to Poppy's mother, encased in glass.  Using the limitless power of imagination, their dolls undertake the most heroic of tasks to avoid her evil curses and win her favour.  Until one day Zach's dad decides he is too old for such games, throwing away Zach's beloved action figures and bringing "the Game" to a too-early ending.

Unaware of the real reason that Zach is avoiding them, the girls attempt to lure Zack back to the game by freeing the Queen.  Once freed from the glass, the Queen's own creepy story begins to unfold. Who is Elspeth Kercher?  Why is Poppy suddenly dreaming as her? Are those her bones ground up inside that china doll?

In an attempt to end the game for good, the friends must go together on one last mission to lay the bones of The Queen, Elspeth Kercher to rest in her hometown in the adjacent state.  Then maybe she will stop haunting them.

The story is beautifully written and the characters are brilliant- unique, full of their own characteristics, opinions and behaviour with a wonderful dynamic, the reader really gets the sense that they've known each other forever.  The pace is excellent and the story, though spooky and spine tingling, is not overly dramatic, the adventure remains within the realms of believability, despite its supernatural nature.  I really liked the increasingly complicated relationship between the three protagonists, how their adventure helped them to reconnect and how they coped with their impending adulthood and changing dynamic.  It was tragic, in an inevitable sense, but sweet to see.

I loved how much the author cared about the value and the beauty of stories and imagination- through fantasy and play as youngsters and then through to fiction when we are older and what an effect this can have on our lives.  I loved how desperate the characters, Zach in particular, were to hold onto that magic- but also how relieved they were to realise that stories and adventure can outlast childhood if you would only allow it to.

It made me feel nostalgic for the boundless imagination that only comes with being a kid, but thankful that the powers of stories are appreciated by contemporary characters.  A well crafted story with excellent characters and a spooky, pacy plot that has a lovely folkish reality to it.  Funny, full of warmth and mystery and some chilling moments.  

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