Book talk: The Lady Lamorna wants nothing more than a beautifully hideous new dress. A dress with skulls all along the hem and a motif of poison ivy and spiders' webs with blood-red petticoats. There is only one problem: her supply of gold is running a bit short. So she conceives of a wonderfully awful plan to turn the princes of the neighboring kingdoms into frogs and then offer the grieved parents her services in returning them to their royal selves--services that will cost enough to refill her money chest. Obstacles crop up from the oddest places however--trueheart Gracie Gillypot running away from her step father, Gracie's evil step-sister whose bright beauty contains dark secrets, a fast-talking bat who runs errands for the Ancient Crones, and even from one of the princes who Lady Lamorna is seeking to curse. But anyone who comes between the quick-tempered lady and her robe of skulls does so at their own risk.
Rocks my socks: I love the dark humour of this book and its fairy tale feel. There's the evil sorceress, the dim-witted lackey, the kind daughter abused by a step-father and step-sister after her parents' death, the prince who meets up with her. I like the prince character a lot. He's one of a pair of twins and unlike the sloppy twin characterizations I see so often in fiction the two princes have very different personalities. My favorite character though is of course the bat--a morally ambiguous smooth talker. I'm reading this to a third grade class right now and they're loving it. One girl even told me excitedly that she's reading the third book despite the fact that we haven't finished the first yet. I'm loving reading it aloud too. There are very few adult male characters, which are the hardest for me, and I love doing my evil sorceress voice because I love playing villains although with my looks I was never cast in a villainous role and doubt I ever will be. I love doing the bat too, with his fast-talking and the ogre lackey who thankfully has very few lines because I use a rough, gravelly voice that'd destroy my throat if I had to do too much of it. Overall we're all having fun with this book.
Rocks in my socks: The book is mostly made up of two dimensional stock characters, but this doesn't bug me too much because it seems like a natural fit for the fairy tale feel of the novel. It's more like the original Grimm tales than the modern retellings (that I also love) that delve more into the characters. The pacing is also a bit fast for my tastes--I prefer my stories to linger in ruminations and descriptions a bit longer. However, it is precisely because of this quality that I chose it as a read-aloud so I can't be too annoyed at it.
Every book its reader: I'd give this to third and fourth graders looking for a fast-paced fairy tale style story. This is also good to give to kids of that age looking for a scary story because while the cover will get their interest it's really more dark humor than horror so it's not too scary or violent. Anyone looking for a darker brand of humor like Lemony Snicket fans will also be pleased.
The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French