The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray is a YA novel I decided to re-read for the sake of all you Sharkberg readers out there. It had been years since I read it, and I recalled enjoying it… but couldn’t remember a whole lot past that. I enjoyed reading it again though–it’s a really good story.
Steampunk meets horror. YA adventure. Monsters, serial killers, elder gods, and dirigibles! This is one of those books where I can just start listing off a bunch of random things that are cool about it. For example, the characters.
- Alaizabel Cray — she’s cray-cray, but that’s because she’s possessed by the spirit of an ancient wych
- Thaniel Fox — our protagonist, a teen gentleman-badass who hunts monsters… and isn’t snarky?? Perhaps that’s the biggest surprise of the novel
- Cathaline Bennett — 30-something monster-hunter and Thaniel’s mentor — and hey, an adult who isn’t useless in a YA novel, how about that
- Stitch-face — a Jack the Ripper type of serial killer; he wears a corpse mask and plays an interesting role in the narrative
And then there’s the wych-kin, which are basically all of Britain’s fairy tale monsters come to life, and then some. Draugs. Cradle-jacks. Rawhead. The author came up with all sorts of clever and fairly horrific creatures to work with, giving them all specific ways of killing people in mysterious ways, and in turn specific ways of being dealt with. Sometimes bullets or a knife to the face does the trick; sometimes charms, runes, and potions and such are required instead.
Also, there’s the Underground with its gangs run by Beggar Lords. One memorable side character is found there by the name of Devil-boy Jack, a mysterious seer with his eyes sewn shut.
And then London’s police are on the case, and we get the viewpoint of an inspector for some segments of the book. When a number of murder locations seem to be making the outline of a Cthulhu-expy on the London map, the inspector has to wonder what’s up with that?
Indeed, there is also The Secret Organization of the Powerful Elite who Secretly Run the World, and they’re one cool cult — they’re set to summon all the elder gods!
This book was enjoyable to read (twice), and I was surprised both times by the reveal regarding the wych-kin near the story’s conclusion. I could tell the author put a lot of thought into the alternate history world of this standalone novel, and managed to get across some interesting concepts regarding the clash between science and faith that occurred in the 19th century, not to mention the ways that large cities began to completely change the way people went about their day-to-day lives.
And perhaps this is one of the things I liked best about The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray. It’s not just a story about Thaniel going around beating up a bunch of monsters and solving the mystery behind The Secret Organization. The author uses a third-person omniscient narrative style, jumping from one character’s point of view to the next, giving an overview of how things are going in various communities in general, sharing thoughts of different characters while outside their point of view, and even noting things that are outside the knowledge or awareness of the characters we’re following. This style has its positives and negatives, but Wooding managed to utilize it really well. I especially liked the third-act chapter in which monsters wreak havoc across London, and we more or less get a half-dozen or so short stories about random citizens as the city is under siege. Instead of just describing how a bunch of nobodies get slaughtered, we get to learn the brief back-stories of several specific individuals, and actually feel a bit bad for them as the monsters work their dark magic against them.
I was originally planning to give this a 3 or 4 out of 5 stars, but really, I can’t think of anything all that bad to say about this one. If I read it twice and enjoyed it both times, why not give it 5 stars? It’s a solid read, and definitely of the better YA titles I’ve gone through as of late. Feel like I ought to take a look at some of the author’s other releases some time, in fact.
(Note: B/W illustrations came from this site.)