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The Theatre of Shadows
Bruce Maxwell
Amazon Digital Services, 351 pages

The Theatre of Shadows
Bruce Maxwell
B.E. Maxwell lives in Connecticut. He is married, with two daughters and two grandchildren. He enjoys reading and telling stories. His imagination has been inspired by British fantasy literature. His favorite authors include Edith Nesbit, Francis Hodgeson Burnett, John Masefield, Pamela Travers, Algernon Blackwood, Violet Firth, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien and Joan Aiken.

B.E. Maxwell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Faerie Door

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'Inside the carriage, a well dressed figure in a tophat sat as still as the dead, holding a walking stick across his knees. His eyes were open, but opaque and unseeing -- for his soul was out upon the astral plane, a vast cloaked form of ghastly dread, skimming at ground level across the moorland at frightful speed.'
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Almost four years on from The Faerie Door, children's author B.E. Maxwell returns with a sequel. This work features several characters from the first novel, plus a host of newcomers, in a setting that is mostly of this world. The premise is that the dark fey queen Ulricke, operating incognito as Mrs. Dreadlake, has found her way into Victorian England. The queen's malign influence is resulting in all manner of ill fortune, including workhouses staffed by enslaved children and hobgoblins marauding across the British countryside. Ulricke's plan is to stage a special kind of play, The Theatre of Shadows, the ninth performance of which will use an entranced audience to subtly enable a terrible spell. If completed, the spell will open a permanent portal back to Ulricke's home, thus allowing her supernatural forces to pour into our world. All that stands against the dastardly plan are two children; Victorian schoolgirl Victoria Deveney, and from 60s America, her true friend Elliot Good.

This is the kind of book that, in cynical and jaded times, offers something that has almost been lost in children's literature; innocence untainted by the pressures and temptations faced by today's children. B.E. Maxwell is a craftsman, who clearly loves what he's doing and has taken the time to invent an array of charmingly named characters, minor to major. There's Bramble the gardener and Mrs Topping the cook, and more imaginatively, Penrod Perewinkle of the Magical Order and Evangeline Rasp, leader of the Ladies Scientific and Eugenics Society. Maxwell also manages to recreate a deliberately Dickensian feel with scenes of the harsh life endured by children whose parents were tricked into giving them up. Each of the 41 chapters and the epilogue is preceded by a short note of explanation, whetting the appetite for what is to come. Inventive scenes include Victoria and her school friends troubles with the supernatural -- and quite dead -- headmistress at their boarding school, a siege by dark forces at Summerwind the home of Victoria's magically aware uncle, little Bobby Carew's ordeal at a workhouse mill, and a shape-changer, called Sarton the Great, terrorising folk at Highgate Cemetery. It's a book with a lot going on, at times almost too much, and as a result occasionally drifts out of focus. But, the strength of characterisation, and cheeky asides such as a cameo roll for Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, coupled with beautifully depicted scenes of the children using magical rings to fly, kept me reading.

Darker and more sinister than the first book, The Theatre of Shadows also gives readers a deeper view of B.E. Maxwell's alternate world. While taking care to remain spoiler free, I can reveal that the story presents a definitive, nicely unexpected conclusion to the adventure begun in The Faerie Door, then offers a glimpse of things to come. For younger readers -- or parents who like to read to their children -- The Theatre of Shadows is a lovely work, free from profanity, overt sexuality and graphic violence. It's also an old fashioned book, addressing timeless themes, and filling a gap on the shelf which many of us had forgotten existed.

Copyright © 2013 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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