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The Monsters of Morley Manor
By Bruce Coville

Harcourt, 2001
$16.00 hardcover
224 pages

Dust jacket image used courtesy of Harcourt, Inc. The monsters in question are a hunchback, a vampire, a lizard-headed man, a werewolf, and a lady with snakes for hair. They start out as little painted figurines in a wooden box. Then they come to life. Then they get big.

Anthony Walker had bought the box at an estate sale. Now he and his sister Sarah join the monsters - except they're not really monsters, or at least not always - on a midnight trip to Morley Manor. It's the first stop on a strange adventure that includes giant frogs, the Land of the Dead and other dimensions, long-lost love, and a plot to turn the ghosts of Earth into battery power.

The Monsters of Morley Manor does not follow through on the promise of its title as a monster story, scary or otherwise, which is oddly disappointing. Instead, Bruce Coville turns out a solid, but somehow mundane, thriller for younger teens. It is fantastic without being fantasy, horror or science fiction.

(Coville actually makes an observation about such genre pigeon-holing. At one point Anthony says, "In the movies they always use either science or magic to do stuff, but not both," to which Gaspar the lizard-man replies, "That represents a small-minded view of the world. But then, people always do like to put things in little boxes.")

Even Gaspar would have to admit that some concoctions work better than others, and The Monsters of Morley Manor is not necessarily Bruce Coville at his best. (The Skull of Truth is still one of the more amazing books I have read in the past ten years.) But it is unfair to ask every book, even from Coville, to be superlative, and Morley Manor is still entertaining, fast and funny. Coville is unpredictable with the small things that keep you on your toes. And, always, he is funny: slapstick, irony, puns, sly send-ups. The mixed genres he mines are rich with material for humor.

Dust jacket illustration by John Berg; used courtesy of Harcourt, Inc.

Reviewed by Wendy Morris. © 2001 by Wendy Morris

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