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The International Writers Magazine: Young Fiction Review

The Master of Fallen Chairs By Henry Porter
Orchard Books; (Sep 2008)
ISBN13: 9781846166259: Paperback

Reviewed by Callum Graham

Kim is thirteen, his mother has died two years previous, and he is estranged from his alcoholic father. He has been sent to Skirl, the house of his cousin and guardian colonel Drago. His life is filled with the monotonies of school work imposed on him by his horrible school master Quake. However his real enemy proves to be Alba Hockmuth, another stranger to Skirl who is slowly taking control of running the house. Kim is lonely, for he is the only child. His only friend is Bella Brown, a maid who shares his interest in the mysteries of Skirl, but who vanishes without trace just weeks before Christmas.

On the night Bella disappears a stranger knocks at the Skirls front door. The visitor is the eccentric Igthy Ma-tuu Clava (or Iggy for short). As the length of his stay increases the strange goings on that Kim has noticed begin to worsen. Before Kim knows it he is solving riddles in a time jumping battle to save his life, with only himself, a few new friends and his wits to protect him. What secrets does the Long Gallery hold, what clues are in the painting of the fallen chairs and who is the master who painted it?

Iggy is a lovable, if unusual character. He has travelled across the sea from the Ro-Torva Islands and believes himself to be a long lost descendant of the Drago family. His genial and amusing appearance disguises a shrewd intelligence and expert knowledge of the increasingly spooky happenings at Skirl. It quickly becomes apparent that Kim must put his trust in him if he wants to solve the dangerous secrets of the master of the fallen chairs. Kim’s cousin, Colonel Drago is well meaning but old, distant and somehow oblivious to the strange goings on in the house.

As the plot continues Kim learns alarming facts about some of the people living under Skirls roof but also meets some new friends. These include a highly proud and talkative stuffed penguin creature called the great Auk and a female child ghost named Silverfish. Both prove invaluable on his and Iggys journey through time. However, for every new friend there is enumerable enemies that try to get in there way.

I was compelled by the quirkiness of the world that Henry Porter has created and the phenomenon of the magic house was inventive and interesting. It helped to show the progression of narrative but also created wonderful imagery of this old supernatural building slowly being encased by the more modern one.

I particularly enjoyed Porters descriptions of the weather conditions that Kim has to battle through. Sentences such as "the ice glittered magically in the air… like the dust in a room picked out by shafts of sunlight" add a richness and atmosphere to the plot. The book plays on Christmas already being a heightened time of year but adds an enchanting element that would make this a great holiday read. It would make a good Christmas stocking filler for teens and adults alike.

I enjoyed the book. The vivid descriptions and unusual characters sucked me into the story and I was reluctant to put it down. The ending has been left open so I think we can expect more from Kim, Iggy and the great Auk. I will defiantly keep my eye open for the sequel.

© Callum Graham Nov 2008

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