When Brian and Gregory receive an invitation to stay at a distant relative’s strange mansion…well, they should know better than to go. Trips to distant relative’s strange mansions rarely go well. And this mansion is even stranger than most. Uncle Max doesn’t really know what century he’s in. The butler boils socks. And the attic houses the Game of Sunken Places.
The Game of Sunken Places looks like a board game. And most of the time it acts like a board game. But from the moment Brian and Gregory start playing, they are caught up in an adventure that goes far beyond the board. Soon the boys are dealing with attitudinal trolls, warring kingdoms, and some very starchy britches.
Luckily, Brian and Gregory have wit, deadpan observation, and a keen sense of adventure on their side.
“The woods were silent, other than the screaming.” This book had me hooked from the opening line. The title and captivating cover art are what drew me in. It looked like an adventure story, and in a way, it is. It starts off with a Narnia feel, when their eccentric Uncle Max meets them in a horse and carriage and takes them to his sprawling, isolated Victorian mansion. The boys are bored one day and discover the Game of Sunken Places in the attic. When they turn over an hourglass, they are plunged into a real-life game that takes place in the dark and creepy woods surrounding the mansion. Along the way they have to solve riddles and puzzles, and meet some fascinating creatures and oddball characters. That reminded me a bit of the film Labyrinth by Jim Henson, and there are just as many twists and turns here. This book would make a fantastic film in its own right.
The story is imaginative, well-written and often laugh-out-loud funny due to Gregory’s constant wisecracks. There are a lot of weird surprises and some scary moments. This book is aimed at ages 9 to 12, but anyone who enjoys fantasy adventures in lost worlds with mythical creatures would love The Game of Sunken Places. It’s the first book of The Norumbegan Quartet, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. I feel it’s been seriously overlooked, and deserves a place on every fantasy lover’s bookshelf.
5 out of 5 stars – highly recommended