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Count Karlstein
Philip Pullman
Alfred A. Knopf, 243 pages

Art: Kevin Hawkes
Count Karlstein
Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman says that he is not a writer but, rather, that he writes stories, and considers this distinction critical. As a child, he loved radio serials, Superman, Batman, and especially ghost stories. A graduate of Oxford University with a degree in English, he has written novels, plays, and picture books for readers of all ages. He is the author of the highly acclaimed The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, the first two books in the trilogy, His Dark Materials.

His Dark Materials Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

In Karlstein village, huddled on the mountain slopes below gloomy Castle Karlstein, there's a tale of terror often told: of Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, who rides the mountains every All Souls' Eve with his Wild Hunt of skeleton huntsmen and phantom hounds. No one quite believes the story -- but no one quite disbelieves it either.

One dark night, just before All Souls' Eve, Hildi the maidservant overhears her master, Count Karlstein, reveal a terrible secret. Years ago, he made a bargain with the Demon Huntsman. Since then, Zamiel has hunted the forests of Castle Karlstein, taking whatever prey he chooses. Now the agreement has run out, and Count Karlstein must provide a human victim. He has hatched a wicked plan to give Zamiel his orphan nieces, Lucy and Charlotte.

Hildi, horrified, rescues the girls, and hides them in an abandoned hunter's hut. But Charlotte is recaptured by Count Karlstein's oily henchman, Arturo Snivelwurst, and Lucy vanishes. With the help of her brother Peter -- who is wanted by the police for poaching -- and the girls' indomitable teacher, Miss Augusta Davenport, Hildi sets out to free Charlotte and find Lucy. Can she succeed? Will Peter be arrested before he can win the Grand Shooting Contest and become Chief Ranger of the Forest? And what will the Demon Huntsman do when he discovers he has been deprived of the victim he has been promised?

Count Karlstein answers these questions and more in fine and spooky style. The plot brings together all the ingredients of the best fairy tales: stalwart heroes, plucky heroines, fugitive orphans, lost heirs, supernatural threats, and, of course, a happy ending: all lovers reunited, all fortunes restored, all comeuppances received. The story is skillfully told in a variety of voices, each with its own unique quality: Hildi's narrative is kind-hearted and practical, Miss Davenport's is firm and forthright, and Lucy's and Charlotte's recall 19th-century journal entries with many gothic references and Captalized Nouns. Pullman is a masterful writer, and so the supernatural moments carry real otherworldly power but not so much as to make the story too frightening for younger readers, and are always leavened by generous infusions of humor.

The book is as diverting to look at as it is to read, with clever silhouette drawings of the characters, and a different typeface for each narrator. A perfect gift for a middle-grade reader, or to read aloud to a younger child.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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