Between Monsters and Marvels

HarperCollins. Sept. 2023. 304p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063244870.
Gr 5 Up–Dare Coates is a contrary, Mary Lennox–like child living on Barrow’s Bay island in an alternative 19th-century society where her father serves in the antiquated role of Captain of the Guard. After all, there are no beastly monsters left to battle. When her sainted father is murdered in a highly telegraphed event, Dare’s world crumbles. Her society-minded mother quickly remarries the island’s governor, and Dare is shipped off to the mainland City-on-the-Pike to live with her retired, theatrical Aunt Emily. In the industrial port city, she meets various individuals, sailors, and theatre owners who knew her father. During her adventures, Dare discovers monsters still exist, and their activities may relate to her father’s death. Dare’s new friends, Gil and Nell, help Dare uncover a corrupt cabal tied to animal cruelty. Dare, described as having ashy brown hair and an angular nose, is admirably unpleasant in a way every child will appreciate. Her scrappy me-against-the-world attitude will have readers gleefully following her perilous scrapes, despite her stubbornness and emotional outbursts. The third-person limited perspective helps maintain the story’s secrets, although anyone who has seen The Sixth Sense will quickly have suspicions about Gil. Parts of the book are like an extended bestiary, others a coping manual for grief. The detailed quasi-Dickensian setting and memorable characters give Wishingrad’s complex world the guardrails it needs to succeed.
VERDICT Hand sell this to its delighted readers—children who like Fantastic Beasts and animal rescue stories.

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