This middle grade book read like a collision of Diana Wynne Jones and Charles Dickens. In many ways, this is as delightful as you would expect, but it can also be overly complex and at times tricky to follow.
Set a little way out of London, Clod is an Iremonger, a rich and enormous family who make their money from the heaps of rubbish that surround the house. Lucy Pennant is part Iremonger, and so brought to the house to serve. The house is made of bits of reclaimed houses, the roof is a forest of chimneys and there’s probably an escaped ostrich running around somewhere. All Iremongers are given a ‘birth object,’ an every day item matched to each person for life. Only Clod can hear these objects calling out names. As he and Lucy befriend one another, they come to realise that perhaps the birth objects and the heaps are more sinister than they appear, and that perhaps the Iremongers’ rise to power has not been without heavy casualties.
This is a very original book, and there will be plenty to amuse young readers. One small entertainment is trying to work what names the Iremongers’ titles are variants of. There’s Timfy instead of Timothy, Pinalippy instead of Penelope and many others. The birth object is a fun concept – like a slightly bleaker and yet funnier version of Philip Pullman’s daemons. Clod is very sweet and Lucy the reader’s ally in understanding this strange world. But the world building is so complex and unrelenting that it can get a little confusing, particularly when combined with the otherwise clever surrealism in some places. A fun book, but for slightly more confident readers.