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Barnaby Grimes: Legion of the Dead

Review

Barnaby Grimes: Legion of the Dead

The life of a tick-tock lad is not for everyone. The work is dangerous and demands punctuality, cunning and dexterity. And if, like Barnaby Grimes, you are a high-stacking tick-tock lad, your job is even more dangerous as you jump from roof to roof, shimmy down drainpipes, and come and go by window instead of door. Brave and clever as he is, Barnaby may be no match for the gruesome figures he encounters in his latest adventure, LEGION OF THE DEAD.

As fans already know, tick-tock lads are messengers (“tick-tock, time is money!”) who go to great lengths to deliver goods and messages all across the city. Barnaby is used to close calls, evil villains and frightening situations. He has fought off supernatural wolves and survived the chaotic halls of a cursed boarding school. But, in LEGION OF THE DEAD, he faces zombie gangsters and soldiers, not to mention giant lampreys and shady grave robbers, all the while hoping to impress a beautiful young nurse named Lucy Partleby and teach fellow tick-tock lad Will Farmer the finer points of highstacking.

A panic is sweeping through Barnaby's bustling, crowded and foggy city as corpses are disappearing from their graves. And this is just stoking the fire of the Victorian fear of being buried alive. Wealthy citizens now pay to have bells attached to their dead hands so that if they turn out to be alive after all, they can be exhumed. Yet Barnaby has more pressing things to worry about, like being forced to attend the funeral of Firejaw O'Rourke, the Emperor of Gatling Quays, the leader of the various nasty gangs that rule the city's underworld, and conducting underwater experiments for his friend, the eminent zoologist Professor Pinkerton-Barnes.

What could the gangland funeral and Pinkerton-Barnes's experiment have in common? Not much, except they lead Barnaby to the Adelaide Graveyard where he finds himself, once again, drawn into the center of the mystery and danger. It turns out that the city's worst fears have been realized: corpses are out of their graves. However, Barnaby doesn't see the work of grave robbers but of Firejaw O'Roarke, two weeks since buried, rising from the grave on his own! By the end of the harrowing tale, Barnaby is surrounded by a crowd of dead soldiers and others, risen from their graves, and it looks like escape is impossible.

Just like with the first two books in the series, LEGION OF THE DEAD takes place in a fascinating city --- part Dickensian London, part Steam Punk imagination, full of odd characters and implausible events. Barnaby is dashing and heroic, smart and humble, and always unwittingly headed into trouble. Paul Stewart's prose is graphic and poetic, and Chris Riddell's illustrations are gory and lovely. However, the story takes too long to get underway and Barnaby seems to be in less imminent danger. While the plot is interesting (and is summarized nicely in the end just to make sure readers catch it all) and the framing of the action in the first chapter works well, overall there is more reliance on descriptions of disgusting rotting and violently mutilated corpses and not enough attention to the pace of the story and the development of the tale.

Still, this book will thrill many young readers, and Barnaby Grimes remains a unique and fun protagonist at the helm of a series that is exciting and wickedly entertaining.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel EgelmanĀ  on March 9, 2010

Barnaby Grimes: Legion of the Dead
by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

  • Publication Date: March 9, 2010
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: David Fickling Books
  • ISBN-10: 0385751311
  • ISBN-13: 9780385751315