Shades of Rust and Ruin

Bloomsbury. Sept. 2022. 400p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781547608089.
Gr 8 Up–Seventeen-year-old Nix, a “partial albino,” dreads Halloween. Her parents died on a long-ago Halloween, and more recently, her identical twin died on that day. To keep Lark’s memory alive and cope with her overwhelming guilt, Nix threw herself into creating a steampunk world called Mystiquiel. It combined her artistry, Lark’s mechanical skills, and backstory from an old picture book: The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. But this October 31st, Nix discovers that Mystiquiel and its inhabitants have taken on a life of their own. To lure Nix in—along with her best friend and crush Clarey (Lark’s ex)—the king of Mystiquiel kidnaps Nix’s one remaining relative. Trying to rescue Uncle Thatch turns into a nightmare game for Nix, scrambling to survive in an incomprehensibly complex world, where nothing is as it seems—not even Nix herself. Readers who persist through a slow and somewhat confusing start will be rewarded by a horror-tinged quest in a crumbling world, filled with evocative, poetic descriptions and complex vocabulary (“phantosmia,” “calcimining,” “voltaic”). Nix is a sympathetic, layered character, as is Clarey, who has “deep brown” skin and Waardburg Syndrome, causing deafness and partial albinism. Their slow-burn romance never goes beyond a single kiss.
VERDICT This fantasy-horror-steampunk quest will please readers who love complex language, lush descriptions, and plots as twisty and deceptive as Celtic knots. Hand it to fans of the movie Labyrinth who are ready for a grittier, but equally labyrinthine matching of wits with the devious fae.

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