I had to look up T. Kingfisher’s ”Summer in Orcus” after reading melanier’s five-star review. It seemed to have all the elements to a great fairy tale: magical beings, adventure, overcoming your fears. Just the kind of book you read to escape for a while, just the kind of book that fills your heart with wonder.
Summer is an 11-year old girl who lives with her overprotective, anxiety-ridden mother. She’s hardly allowed to leave the house for fear of bad things happening to her, let alone have a normal childhood. One day, a house on chicken legs walks down the alley. The owner is Baba Yaga, a terrifying crone that tells Summer she can offer her her heart’s desire. After giving it a lot of thought (how can she sneak out without her mom noticing? What does Baba Yaga want in return?), Summer is then transported to Orcus, a world similar to our own but very different still. What is her heart’s desire, and how is she going to get it in this strange world? And just how dangerous is it going to be?
This is a book about overcoming your fears. About finding what you excel in, putting that strength to good use but also knowing when to take a step back and let others bear the burden. It’s about freedom and guilt and the balancing act of facing challenges only adults should face and allowing yourself to be a child at the same time. By its summary, you’d think this is a children’s book, but it is meant to be read by adults. Some passages can be at best unsettling and for some even outright scary.
The characters have each their distinctive voices and quirks. The good guys are flawed and the bad guys are not caricatures but complex creatures. T. Kingfisher has such vivid imagination and is able to paint such beautiful (or harrowing) pictures that it’s almost like watching a movie. She touches on a lot of important themes, most importantly mental illness. The book stops just short of being the kind of masterpiece The Neverending Story is, which is why I’m only giving it four stars instead of five, despite how great it is.