In the city of Dirge, the sun hasn’t shone in over 1,700 days. Liesl, a young girl & newly turned orphan, is locked away in the attic by her evil stepmother. Will, also an orphan and a make-shift indentured servant to the city’s alchemist, visits Liesl’s house nearly every night for a glimpse of her through the attic window. After having mistaken a box of ashes (Liesl’s father) with a box of the most powerful magic in the world, Will is forced to leave Dirge to escape the wrath of the alchemist and the wicked Lady Premiere. On the way, he encounters Liesl and Po (a friendly spirit from the Other World) who are also escaping from Liesl’s stepmother. The trio embark on an incredible journal to restore Liesl’s father’s ashes to its rightful place and escape from the clutches of evil that dominate their worlds.
My summary doesn’t really convey the wonder and magic held in the pages of this book. In the middle of reading Liesl & Po, I questioned my husband on why I can’t stand to read adult fantasy or sci-fi (unless it’s penned by Neil Gaiman), but I devour children’s fantasy books like cookies. He said it’s because children’s fantasy books are wonderous, whereas adult fantasy is filled with politics. In my opinion, most adult fantasy books try to hard to create “another world” and there is nothing wonderous about those worlds.
This book, for all intents and purposes, is wonderous. It is Charles Dickens meets Lewis Carroll. It is penned by well-known YA author Lauren Oliver. This book was written as a form of therapy for the author after a close friend of hers passed away. The elements of facing death, pulling yourself out of the shadows and moving on are very strong in this book. They are told in a way that young children can easily read and relate too. It’s not preachy and it’s not over the top. The bad guys (the alchemist and Lady Premiere) are really, really bad, like Count Olaf bad. The good guys are well-meaning if a little bit goofy (Mo).
The other element I like about this is that it doesn’t talk down to its readers. The audience base is 8-12, and that is very accurate. Although the story is seemingly simple, Oliver’s writing is full of meanings, metaphors, and beautiful descriptions of sadness, eternity, death and friendship. If this was my own copy I would have most of the book either underlined or re-written in a quote journal.
People could push and pull at you, and poke you, and probe as deep as they could go. They could even tear you apart, bit by bit. But at the heart and root and soul of you, something would remain untouched.
I think this is a standalone book, but I wish it could be part of a series. I really fell for the characters. Will (the Oliver Twist of the story), and Liesl (the Alice in Wonderland + Cinderella) make for an interesting duo. Po & Bundle are vague and fuzzy in the book, as they are meant to be residing in the Other Side where everything is vague and fuzzy.
I also have to make a note of Kei Acedera’s illustrations in this book. The pencil sketches accurately reflect the darkness and gray shadows that are cast over the city of Dirge. The book trailer is absolutely beautiful, if you get a chance to watch it.