"I might have occupied my mind usefully with Improving Thoughts, but the only improvement I could imagine then was a pair of wings, to enable me to fly to freedom. And, of course, a Head for Heights. I cleaned the dust from the window and peered out hopefully, but there was nothing but a Horrid Precipice, with jagged crags several thousands of feet below." Such are the woes of young Charlotte, locked in a tower room of her uncle's gloomy Castle Karlstein in 19th-century Switzerland. Escaping this predicament seems the least of her worries: in a solemn blood pact, her evil uncle, Count Karlstein, has promised to sacrifice his two orphaned nieces, Lucy and Charlotte, to Zamiel the Demon Huntsman--on midnight of All Souls' Eve--in return for his current riches.
First, however, the heartless Count and his "lip-licking, moist-handed, creeping, smarming" secretary, Herr Arturo Snivelwurst, will have to catch Lucy, too--and it is no small task with the headstrong, 14-year-old Hildi Kelmar; her 18-year-old, handsome-in-a-scowling-sort-of-way brother, Peter; and the intrepid English teacher Miss Augusta Davenport on the girls' side. As Miss Davenport herself points out, "an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol." The events in this delightful gothic farce unfold quickly in a variety of narrative voices, artfully building in suspense to a powerful, terrifying, deeply satisfying stand-off between the Count and the Demon Huntsman of Impenetrable Darkness himself. Subplots and loose ends are gracefully, happily, justly tied up in the light of day, finally allowing readers to exhale.
British novelist Philip Pullman, masterful storyteller and creator of the bestselling adventures The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, mesmerizes us again with his playful, suspenseful thriller Count Karlstein, released in the United States 16 years after its appearance in the United Kingdom. Readers young and old will revel in every angle, twist, and turn of this breathlessly paced, very funny page-turner. (Ages 11 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
Originally published in Britain in 1982, Pullman's light-hearted debut effort appears in the U.S. for the first time. A welcome diversion for fans impatiently awaiting the final installation of the trilogy begun with The Golden Compass, this novel?though lacking the more serious underpinnings of the author's later books?showcases the boisterous narrative style that fans will recognize as an established element of Pullman's repertoire. Set in a Swiss village in 1816, the story revolves around wicked Count Karlstein, his two wards?the English orphans Lucy and Charlotte?and the nasty bargain Karlstein has struck with Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, a supernatural being who annually haunts the local woods on All Souls' Eve. Pullman adds further zest to the mix with the appearance of characters like the orphans' former schoolteacher, the indomitable Augusta Davenport ("I was able to console myself with the reflection that an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol"), and the actor and sometime swindler known as Doctor Cadavarezzi (aka Signor Brilliantini), a mountebank as charming as he is sly. Briskly narrated in a variety of voices, including those of Lucy (influenced by such contemporary gothic novels as The Mysteries of Udolpho) and the bumbling, hilariously self-important police sergeant Snitsch, the plot undergoes a series of twists and turns too complicated?not to mention delightfully improbable?to delineate here. In an exuberant conclusion worthy of the best of comic operas, the orphans find a true protector, the evil Count is served his just deserts and the formidable Miss Davenport is reunited with her long-lost love. Dashing, sparkling and wildly over-the-top fun. Ages 8-13.
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