Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 28th 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is a strange tale about Anastasia, an 11 year-old girl who is told that her parents have perished in a freak vacuum accident and guardianship of her has fallen to her two spinster aunts of whom she had no knowledge until they showed up outside her school. On the pretext of taking Anastasia to see her parents, they trap her in what they proudly call their “Victorian” home which used to be known as St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. There they feed her Mystery Lumps, put her to work cleaning spiders and harvesting leeches, and lock her in her room at the end of the night. Anastasia has no idea what’s going on until she finds a boy who has a bird cage around his head and he makes her realize that her two aunts are more sinister than she thought them.
The story took a while for me to get used to particularly because the narrative voice is obviously addressing children and it has been quite a while since I was a child.
As you are undoubtedly aware, dear Reader, pinkie-swearing is the most hallowed of all oaths. Treaties have been ratified and wedding proposals accepted, and brave soldiers knighted, all with the sacred pinkie clinch. It is not an oath to undertake lightly, and Anastasia knew this full well as she solemnly crooked her pinkie around Quentin’s.
The prose is relatively simple though there is sophisticated diction used; the more complex words are explained in the context of the story. The story itself is light and even events such as parental death cannot repress the comic tone dominant in the novel. The book invites readers to unleash their imaginations and think broadly about the circumstances that may have resulted in Anastasia’s captivity. The aunts are perfectly horrid creatures reminiscent of the odious Mrs. Umbridge from Harry Potter (how I loathed that lady).
I enjoyed Ollie, the shadowboy who is a bit more unique than his brother who goes around with the birdcage around his head. The story, too, does go in unexpected directions that are enjoyable for all its unpredictability. However, I found that the narrative does not make as much a contribution to the larger picture as I would have wished it to. While there are hints to a grander conspiracy at work than the readers had been led to believe, no questions are answered. The ending feels contrived and a bit artificial as Anastasia, instead of insisting on answers to the questions she had asked not a page earlier, chooses to curb her curiousity and stare out at the night sky. What is obviously a hook to keep readers engaged with the story actually detracts from the reading in my opinion as the deliberate delay in answering pertinent questions about the overarching narrative leaves the reader reading about a series of random events.
That said, I recommend you wait until the next book is released before reading this one because interesting as it is, the frustration at the end is all too real–unless you don’t mind cliffhangers. If you don’t then please go ahead and give this book a read. It has fun characters and a mysterious story…that I well…I don’t know what it is about? Still? Yeah okay. Make up your own minds on this.