Eldritch Manor: A Review

From Dundurn:

Twelve-year-old Willa Fuller is convinced that the old folks in the shabby boarding house down the street are prisoners of their sinister landlady, Miss Trang. Only when Willa is hired on as housekeeper does she discover the truth, which is far more fascinating.

Eldritch Manor is a retirement home for some very strange beings indeed. All have stories to tell — and petty grievances with one another and the world at large.

Storm clouds are on the horizon, however, and when Miss Trang departs on urgent business, Willa is left to babysit the cantankerous bunch. Can she keep the oldsters in line, stitch up unravelling time, and repel an all-out attack from the forces of darkness … all while keeping the nosy neighbours out of their business and uncovering a startling secret about her own past?

Ever wonder what happens to mystical beings when they pass their prime? They go into retirement of course! In Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson (Dundurn), their retirement home just happens to be at the end of Willa Fuller’s street. At first, Willa thinks the elderly occupants of Eldritch Manor are being kept against their will so she begins snooping around for answers. What she discovers is wilder than she could have ever imagined.

When Willa accidently chases away the house’s resident brownie, she is asked to take on the job of housekeeper. Now not only must Willa keep things tidy, she also has to deal with Belle, a cranky old woman in a wheelchair, Baz, the lackadaisical chef, Horace, a forgetful older gentleman, and a number of other strange house guests, each with surprising secrets.

I was immediately drawn into this charming little story about a creepy retirement home that’s not what it seems. The huffy little house brownie and the coins that roll uphill were really what had me hooked. The manor’s cantankerous inhabitants are delightful and are the glue of the story. In fact, I would have liked to learn more about them. We never really learn any of their backstory, except for the odd vague clue, and it would have been interesting to get to know them better.

I loved the first half of this story. There are fun misunderstandings and lots of questions raised as we get to know the characters and find out who they are. The build-up is fantastic!

But then the ball drops somewhat. Near the end things become a bit muddled and hard to picture. Like with the backstory for the characters, I felt there were areas where the story could use some expansion. Baz’s “condition” is never really explored (although she’s one of my favourite elders in the book) and Tengu still remains a question mark. And Willa’s mother! Please excuse my vagueness as I try to avoid giving everything away, but her relationship with a certain member of the manor needs more explanation because her appearance at the end doesn’t really make sense to me. The revelation of Willa’s family secret could have used more page time. It felt like a loose thread.

That being said, I really did enjoy Eldritch Manor. The characters are fun and the allusions to mythology are great, especially if you already know a bit about creatures from mythology like nymphs and sphinxes. It’s a middle-grade book that readers of the Charlie Bone series and books like The Secret of Platform 13 will adore. And I loved the tiny illustration of a brownie that marked the section breaks! So cute!

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