Don’t keep it a Secret – Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

GoblinSecretsCover2I have three children. I love books. It’s no surprise then that we have a lot of children’s stories in our house. Very few of them are of the quality of Goblin Secrets. Reading William Alexander’s prize winning novel has been a wonderful experience for father and son alike. I find it hard to describe the relish with which we both approached our bedtime read. It’s one of those books that is so good it occasionally ended in a tantrum at the end of a chapter. An unfortunate but curiously welcome side effect of the best children’s books. A burning desire for the tale to keep spinning.

Goblin Secrets follows Rownie, an orphan and ward of Graba, a curious mechanical Fagin with a family of desperate Dodgers. Rownie lives in Zombay, a city split by ‘The River’. It’s two halves, the haphazard Southside and the neat regimented Northside are joined by the Fiddleway, a bridge where miscreants can find sanctuary and buskers duel it out with their competing tunes. In the centre of the bridge sits a mechanical masterpiece, a wondrous stained glass clock tower. In Zombay, for reasons not initially explained, acting is outlawed, at least it is for normal ‘unchanged’ children. Stagecraft and acting is the domain of Goblins; wizened creatures who steal children for nefarious purposes.

As the novel opens Rownie is hoping to find word of his older brother, Rowan. Rowan flaunted the city’s rules by forming an acting troupe, and now he has disappeared. Hiding, dead or fled? Rownie knows not, but his story is driven by his desire to find the truth. That and the attribute that propels many a children’s story, curiosity. When he discovers a Goblin caravan is to perform in the city, he can’t help but use Graba’s money to purchase himself a ticket…

What follows is a lyrical story every bit as good as Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights. Spellbinding is a word often used to describe fantasy fiction, but in this case I think the word is fully justified. There is something magical about William Alexander’s prose. His description of places and events in Zombay had two generations of Brooks’s bewitched. The rendering of city, the goblins and their masked plays are so evocative, you can hear, taste and smell them. It’s a festival of imagination.

I can’t overstate it enough. Goblin Secrets is children’s fiction of the highest calibre. Its existence solves our birthday party present dilemmas for the foreseeable future; every child deserves the chance to hear about Zombay, Rownie and the magical masks of the Goblins. Finishing Goblin Secrets left us bereft. Would we find as good a book to share again? Handily a companion novel, Ghoulish Song has just hit the shops…

My son is 8 years old and loved this story. I would say six months ago some of it may have gone over his head, and even now I am not sure he fully understood the depth of the ending. The novel’s end has the potential to be disturbing, so some caution is warranted for younger or sensitive readers.

Many Thanks to Sam, Grace and the team at Constable for sending me a copy of this most amazing book.

One final note about Goblin Secrets.  My 17mth old. Loves this book too. He loves the picture of Rownie on the cover. It’s repeated three times and he spends great chunks of time pointing at each in turn going ‘Ro, Ro, Ro…’ Truly a book for all the family!

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