Imagine you find a key with your name attached to it. Like Alice, you would want to find the keyhole. When A.J., tidying the files belonging to the law firm where he has landed a job, finds such a key, a door opens in his life; a door that leads to mystery, danger but also opportunity.
In this novel, Sally Gardner returns to the storytelling of her earlier books, in particular I, Coriander. However, here the door leads not to a faery world but to Victorian London; a London that exists in parallel, allowing protagonists to move easily between both times. It is a perilous premise that could easily founder. However, the assurance with which the author presents her narrative, caries the reader along. Inevitably there are devices it might be better not to question but they work creating the atmosphere and providing the necessary transitions.
If the setting requires suspension of disbelief, her characters are very real. They are also engaging, and though each faces difficult lives, are not intrinsically bad or indeed stupid. Their dialogue is contemporary – which may date it sooner than might be necessary. It also features frequent expletives. This may cause some to pause. However, it works for these boys and is handled naturally; this is how they speak. This acceptance may in part be the effect of Gardner’s prose which, in keeping with the period behind the door, takes on a richness that echoes that of Dickens (an author A.J. loves). It was a joy to read. Indeed, while though not as extraordinary as Maggot Moon, it is that pearl – a book that draws the reader in to a world of adventure in the company of friends.