In this debut middle grade fantasy, set in an alternate Pacific Northwest at the time when settlers depended on the forests for their living, 12 year-old Lucy Darrington searches for her father, a ghost catcher and inventor of gadgets, who has set off to the ominous Devil’s Thumb peninsular to find dreamwood, a possible cure for Rust, a disease that is killing all the trees.
The first hundred pages of the novel are a little too stuffed with set up and exposition, but once Lucy, and her new friend Pete, set out on their quest, the pace and creepy tension ratchet up, and the foreboding evil on the Thumb is palpable.
There is a subplot with a tribe of First Peoples that adds to the rich atmosphere and original world creation, but it is not integral to the main narrative and there is nothing particularly original about the fictional Lupine tribe. Was there ever a Native American ‘princess’ who is not a proud and beautiful warrior?
Lucy is a feisty girl who is used to being right and working things out on her own, so her relationship with proud and self-reliant Pete is initially strained, but develops as they learn to rely on each other.
With a satisfying conclusion that puts sustainability on the agenda, everyone gets their due, good and bad. As several peripheral characters meet unpleasant deaths, this is more suitable for an older middle grade crowd than the cover and publisher description might suggest. Though there is perhaps a little too much plot, fantasy lovers will be excited by this new voice.