The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb was nominated for the Cybils award in Young Adult Fiction, but we ended up transferring it to the Fantasy and Science Fiction category, where it was well-liked, but didn't quite make the shortlist. The book was published in the UK, and has not been published in the US yet. However, the publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy. This book has received a certain amount of acclaim because the author, who wrote her first novel at 14, was only 19 when she wrote this one. I find this mind-boggling.
Horatio Lyle is an extraordinary and unusual book. It's a combination of historical fiction (1864 London) and science fiction (dangerous, green-eyed aliens), with a heady mix of scientific experimentation, class consciousness, and witty banter. The protagonist, in an atypical fashion for a young adult book, is a grown man, though admittedly somewhat youthful in his habits. Horatio Lyle has two younger sidekicks: Tess, a female pickpocket "still young enough to get away with pretending to be innocent, but old enough to be very, very guilty indeed" and Thomas, aka "bigwig", the 15-year-old son of the wealthy Lord Elwick. He also has a faithful dog, Tate. Together, Lyle, Tess, Thomas, and Tate, with a bit of timely assistance from Lyle's redoubtable mother, embark on a dangerous mission.
Lyle, a well-off young inventor and scientist, is hired as a Special Constable by an agent of Buckingham Palace, to solve the mystery of the stolen Funyan Plate, "believed by the natives of Tibet to have been forged in the making of the world by and for the 'Tseiqin', an ancient and powerful race, some call demons, some angels." He and his team soon find themselves competing with two other dangerous factions, both of whom want the plate for their own purposes. Explosions and ambushes, mind control and betrayal all ensue. But despite the rapidity of the plot, Catherine Webb takes time for lyrical writing, too. For example:
Clouds raced along like frightened fish, trying to pretend they hadn't been there, spreading out in wisps that faded into the night. Behind them, the stars were wetly visible, made larger and more twinkling by the water still hanging heavy in the air.
Overall, it's a fantastic romp with a nice historical atmosphere. The interaction between Lyle, Tess, and Thomas, as they gradually come to trust and value one another, makes the story more than a mere adventure novel. I'm intrigued to see how their relationships continue to evolve, and what trouble they get into next. The next book in the series is called The Obsidian Dagger, but I haven't seen it yet.
Book: The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle
Author: Catherine Webb
Publisher: Atom (Little, Brown)
Original Publication Date: 2006 (UK)
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Once Upon a Bookshelf (Courtney), Readers' Rants (TadMack), Scholar's Blog (Michele). Also, this is not a review, precisely, but Gail Gauthier discusses the adult protagonist of this book over at Original Content.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.