Synopses & Reviews
A boy joins a theatrical troupe of goblins to find his missing brother.
In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around, much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.
Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan,because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.
This accessible, atmospheric fantasy takes a gentle look at love, loss, and family while delivering a fast-paced adventure that is sure to satisfy.
"In Alexander's debut novel, set in the magical, steampunk-inflected land of Zombay, a young orphan named Rownie lives in the household of Graba the witch, running errands and scavenging food where he can. His older brother, Rowan, used to live with Rownie and Graba's band of 'Grubs,' but Rowan was arrested for putting on a mask and acting -- in Zombay, citizens are forbidden to pretend to be other than they are -- and has disappeared. When a troupe of goblins arrives to put on a play, Rownie sneaks away to see them and angers Graba enough that he's forced to flee. He accepts sanctuary from the goblins, joining their troupe and mounting a search for Rowan, but Graba is hunting Rownie, and there are dire warnings that long-prophesied floods are coming to wipe out Zombay. Alexander has an intriguing central theme, in which masks and theater create actual magic, but the story is slow to develop. The result is a (sometimes gruesome) fantasy stuffed with interesting ideas that don't quite have room to breathe. Ages 8-12. Agent: Joe Monti, Barry Goldblatt Literary." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Rownie’s search for his brother turns into an unlikely heroic quest....Though highly textured, it’s tightly woven and reassuringly seamless. The result is wryly humorous and bearably yet excitingly menacing: Even while much is left unexplained, Rownie’s triumph is both gripping and tantalizing." Kirkus Reviews, (Starred Review)
"Alexander has an intriguing central theme, in which masks and theater create actual magic . . . The result is a (sometimes gruesome) fantasy stuffed with interesting ideas."--Publishers Weekly
"The appeal here lies in Alexander’s careful construction of a distinctive world: touches of steampunk can be found in Graba’s geared-up legs and the Mayor’s automaton guards while a more ancient, primal magic seems to guide the goblins and their powerful brand of storytelling....The bittersweet ending remains true to the story’s overall dreamy, melancholic tone." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"The story weaves a many-webbed tale, rich in imagination with a fairy-tale feel." School Library Journal
About the Author
William Alexander studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College and English at the University of Vermont. He currently lives, writes, and teaches in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His short stories have been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Lady Churhill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Interfictions 2, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008. Visit him at WillAlex.net.