Watch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory Funaro
The spooky adventures of Lucy and Oliver Tinker continue in The Alchemist’s Shadow (2020), a sequel to last year’s middle-grade haunted house novel by Gregory Funaro, Watch Hollow. The Tinker family — 11-year-old Lucy, 12-year-old Oliver, and their father — are settling in at the rural Rhode Island mansion, Blackford House, where they vanquished a supernatural foe in Watch Hollow. The Tinkers, originally the caretakers of Blackford House, now own the home, complete with its enormous clock that magically powers the house. At least, the Tinkers thought they owned the house, until the orphaned 12-year-old part-Japanese Kojima twins, Agatha and Algernon, show up with their British governess to take up residence, claiming that they’re the rightful heirs to the prior owner.
That’s bad enough, but within a day or so a terrifying minotaur-like monster appears in their beloved house, the twins’ governess disappears (killed by the monster, the children suspect) and the house itself begins to gradually transform into a labyrinth. After all, as Agatha observes, what’s a labyrinth without a Minotaur? Brick and wooden walls turn to grayish stone and seal off passageways, trapping the children in dangerous situations. Lucy and Oliver reluctantly realize that they’ll need the help of the twins to escape the new dangers that threaten to destroy their treasured magical house … and perhaps even them.
The Alchemist’s Shadow is a suspenseful, fast-paced story, if not quite as charming as the first book. The appealing carved wooden animals who form a part of the house’s magic clock, and who come to life, move and talk under the right (magical) conditions, play a lesser role in this sequel. The plot is a little disjointed and jumpy and doesn’t always make complete sense, like when the children decide to split their group apart in the now-haunted and monster-infested house. It felt like a horror film with teenagers inexplicably going off on their own when a killer’s on the loose. Still, there’s a lot to be said for scenes like the dining room chairs sprouting eyes and jagged teeth and chasing the kids around like a pack of wild dogs.
The children in The Alchemist’s Shadow include a couple of particularly memorable characters. Lucy is deeply devoted to her wooden clock animal friends. She’s impulsive, excitable, and struggles with making friends in her new town and getting along with other kids. Algernon doesn’t speak at all, due to the past trauma of losing his parents in a car accident. He always carries around a sinister-looking marionette called Samurai Kenzo, or Kenny. Lucy, steeped in the magical atmosphere of Blackford House, is convinced that Kenny is watching her and planning some evil.
Younger readers who like exciting, creepy tales should enjoy The Alchemist’s Shadow. It’s scary, but shouldn’t be too intense for all but the most sensitive middle-grade readers. There’s a heartwarming message of love and unselfishness that wraps up the story, along with a last-minute twist that opens the door for the next book in this series.