Written by Neil Gaiman - Illustrated by Dave McKean & Chris Riddell
Published by Bloomsbury £14.99
Neil Gaiman is nothing if not versatile. Some writers, having created a mythos as engrossing as the Sandman one, would have been content to remain in comics all their lives carving a nice niche for themselves. But not Neil, and especially not when you’ve got talented artists like Dave McKean and Chris Riddell as collaborators. Alongside his novels with a more adult tone (Neverwhere, American Gods, Anansi Boys), Gaiman has already been busily working away with McKean on children’s books like The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls. They also worked on Coraline, which was a dark Alice in Wonderland-style adventure aimed at kids, but which – like Harry Potter before it – older readers found just as compelling.
Gaiman’s new release falls into that same camp, and the range of quotes on the wraparound cover (featuring sumptuous art by either McKean or Riddell) from the likes of Garth Nix and James Herbert should tell you that it’s a very hard one to categorise. Quite right too.
The story begins one fateful night when a family is murdered in their own home. A toddler escapes The Man Jack and his knife, only to end up in a nearby graveyard, where he’s taken in by the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Owens, who’ve always wanted a baby of their own. Given the freedom of the ‘yard, Bod – short for Nobody – Owens also gets a Guardian in the form of Silas, who is somewhere between living and dead.
As Bod grows, he learns all he can about life from the dead – and makes friends in the form of a long dead witch and his teacher, the harsh but fair Mrs Lupescu. Meanwhile his human friend, Scarlett, a girl who lives not far away, is dragged off by her parents to live in Scotland. The years pass and Bod has adventures which involve a Ghoul Gate and an encounter with some shady characters at a pawn brokers’ when he dares to venture out of the graveyard’s gates. He also attends a real school, utilising powers the ghosts have taught him – such as fading – so he’s never quite seen.
But The Killer who wanted Bod dead has never forgotten him. And before the boy can come of age, he must face his past – and his greatest enemy. Only then will he be able to fulfil his destiny.
Loosely inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, and a visit to a graveyard long ago when Gaiman spotted his young son playing, this is probably his best book to date. A rites of passage tale, The Graveyard Book has definite parallels to Stardust, not least because it concerns a young boy searching for his place in the world and trying to work out exactly who he is. The characters are real and well-rounded, from Bod himself right down to The Man Jack, fuelled by vengeance. But it’s Silas who really steals the show, as he just has a coolness about him that all mentors should possess.
A must read for all ages, by turns thrilling, poignant and emotionally charged – by the time you come to the end I guarantee you will not want to say goodbye to either Bod or the place where he grew up. If you don’t enjoy this one, I’ll have grave concerns about you.
(C) P. Kane 2008
© Paul Kane 2003-2018. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.