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The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief Hardcover – August 1, 2010
Three young scions of a notably dysfunctional family find themselves pitted against a dying uncle as evil as he is massively wealthy in this melodramatic kickoff to the Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom series. Invited to visit their reclusive uncle Silas so that he can select an heir, shy Adele, angry Milo, and Isabella (an accomplished liar and sneak thief) start off at odds but slowly come to form an alliance as it becomes plain that Silas intends no good for any of them. What is his malign scheme? Is it connected to the mysterious coffinlike device being constructed in the dungeon below the manor? Readers who relish the sort of tale that features hidden passages, oddball relatives, mad scientists, veiled or not-so-veiled threats, frequent deadly “accidents,” and the occasional crocodile attack will enjoy the ride—and may well be pleased that bad-to-the-bone Silas, who is the most vivid character here, plainly has a role to play in future episodes despite being reduced to a pile of dust at the end. Grades 5-7. --John Peters
"Stephen M. Giles, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $12.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4022-4090-4
Giles makes it clear from the outset of this launch to the Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom series that the Winterbottom clan has faced some unfortunate events. A family tree that opens the book reveals that one ancestor was trampled by an elephant; two were killed by a volcano. In newcomer Giles's capable hands, the surviving Winterbottoms are a delightfully dysfunctional bunch. Silas, a dying old man with a menacing pet crocodile, has summoned two nieces and a nephew to his mansion in a swamp, promising he'll select one to inherit the estate. The Mr. Burnsian elder's interactions with his would-be heirs and the dynamics among the kids are quite funny, particularly the machinations of uppity, greedy Isabella, who convinces unassuming Adele that she wants her to inherit the wealth, while doing her best to doom that innocent's chances. The nasty and convoluted plans Silas has for all three are revealed in a fast-paced denouement. Giles delivers even the macabre twists of the tale with a light touch, giving readers plenty of incentive to stick with the series. Ages 912. (Aug.) " - Publishers Weekly
"This entertaining mystery is suspenseful, sometimes a little icky, funny and rife with twists, fake saves and eccentric characters-good old-fashioned gothic adventure meets Agatha Christie for middle readers. (family tree) (Mystery. 8-14) " - Kirkus
"After years of estrangement from his family, the aging Silas Winterbottom seeks to make amends for his past transgressions by inviting his young nieces and nephew to his home in the hopes of selecting an heir for his massive fortune-or at least that is what he would have Adele, Isabella, and Milo believe. The truth is far more sinister, and the children are in mortal danger of losing their souls the minute they step on the Sommerset estate. They are also, however, Winterbottoms; as such, all three kids have ulterior motives for being there, and they are clever enough to see right through their uncle's kind exterior-now they only have to figure out how to stop him. Secret passageways, scheming relatives, and grumpy 'gators abound in this darkly funny series opener. The Winterbottoms would no doubt give Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf a run for his money, and although Milo and Adele lack Isabella's peculiar charisma, this family puts the fun-if you consider body snatching and spending an inordinate amount of time planning your sibling's death fun-into dysfunctional. The three children all have their own quirky attributes, and young readers will especially love to hate the spoiled and bratty Isabella. The lively pace makes this an attention-keeping readaloud choice (particularly around Halloween); although the ultimate outcome may not be a surprise, getting there is a journey listeners might want to repeat, so be prepared for multiple readings. KQG
" - The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books
""It is sinister to the core. Silas Winterbottom is the most despicable, dastardly character. It's wicked humor at its best... It's just the right amount of edginess and humor that makes this story perfect."
" - Octavia Books
"Readers who relish the sort of tale that features hidden passages, oddball relatives, mad scientists, veiled or not-so veiled threats, frequent deadly "accidents," and the occasional crocodile attack will enjoy the ride-and may well be pleased that bad-to-the-bone Silas, who is the most vivid character here, plainly has a role to play in future episodes despite being reduced to a pile of dust at the end" - Booklist
""This is a refreshing, well-written book with fleshed-out characters that will have you laughing out loud one minute and marveling at how realistic they are the next. The writing is fresh, funny and perfectly-paced, and each character's "voice" is wonderfully authentic."" - YA Bookscentral
""This is a wickedly funny story... If you love clever fiction, get a copy of this incredibly fun book and follow along on their adventures."" - The Long and Short of It
""I absolutely adored The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom The Body Thief. Each of the characters in the story was amazing... A non-stop page turner. Quite literally, I devoured the entire book in one evening."" - Theresabook.com
""A highly enjoyable tale. The characters were well developed and the plot twists kept me very well entertained. For a middle grade read, this one has become one of my favorites. Definitely something I'll keep around and recommend to my daughter as soon as she's old enough to read it."" - Red House Books
""The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom is a sinister and hilarious read, which delights in its own wickedness. It's a perfect read for Halloween. Well-written and just the right blend of dark humor and camp, it's great for adults and kids."" - Bri Meets Books
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The writing is crisp and direct with visual descriptions that pack a punch. Stephen Giles does a wonderful job of using a variety of elements to paint a picture. He shows us each child's outer world by cleverly name tagging the parents/guardian and their lifestyles, and gives us insight into the children's inner selves by fast paced scenes and secret thoughts. A teeny note of caution: There is one scene at the beginning (having to do with birds pecking flesh) that may be disturbing to some middle graders. Then again, at their age, they'll probably laugh.
The story begins with a relatable, average scene of a parent complaining about money. But soon, as we are introduced to all three of the main characters--Adele, Milo, and Isabella--we realize these children are far from your average middle graders with far from your average upbringings. And when they're introduced to Uncle Silas, it's obvious to the reader that this story is anything but average.
Talk about dysfunction. All the adults in this book are 'less' than worthy of being parents, with the exception of Milo's guardian. I loved this. Often in both MG and YA, parents or guardians are introduced quickly and then shifted from the story. Their personal 'issues' are explained away and we're done with them. Here, there are constant references as to how each child was affected by his/her parents/guardians, which plays directly into the movement of the story.
And as we being to follow Uncle Silas around his island estate, a sinking feeling sets in. Silas' eerie pauses and stares lead to constant questions. The story slowly progresses to a real 'Who done it' or 'Who's going to get it?'.
I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic created between the three cousins. Their personalities are extremely unique, yet believable, and will appeal to both girls and boys of this age group. A battle of mistrust, fake-facades, snobbery, and even lies begins between them. I loved this realism, and how each child is forced to grow, overlook the others' flaws, and work together. It's a great lesson for kids of this age.
And honestly, could a middle grader really resist a scaly, pet alligator named Thorn, that roams the halls of a gigantic mansion?
The Winterbottom Family Tree found at the beginning of the book tells you much of what you need to know. Generally speaking, Winterbottoms meet strange ends. If they're not killed by volcanoes or trampled by elephants then they vanish climbing Mt. Fuji or end up poisoned. Adele Fester-Winterbottom, Milo Winterbottom, and Isabella Winterbottom are all cousins. Their parents are siblings to their uncle Silas Winterbottom, a decrepit old man who also happens to be filthy rich. Now Silas is dying and he has called these three children to his side. One of them is going to get his enormous fortune. He would just like to get to know the kids better before he decides which one is most worthy. As it happens each child has their own reason for hurrying to Silas's side. One child has gone out of fear. One has gone out of greed. And one has gone out of revenge. But when push comes to shove, these apparent rivals for the Winterbottom fortune will join together to crack the mystery of why old Silas really wants them in his home. And the answer is bound to be treacherous.
We call books like "Silas" gothic, but I can't help but wonder if there's a better term for this. Indeed the word feels overused these days. Kids don't know what it means and adults don't half the time either. Generally speaking, your average Gothic hero or heroine will at some point attempt to escape a castle, a manor, or a boarding school of some sort. "A Series of Unfortunate Events" manages at least two out of three of these in the course of the series. "Silas" has one. You get extra points if you include a crypt at some point. "Silas" has that. And really, you're absolutely good to go if the book can include a little murder and somebody reading a mysterious will. So it is that for all my protesting, "Silas" is one of the most perfect little Gothic children's novels to come down the pike. It's right up there with "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" and others of that ilk.
My husband is a screenwriter and he once came up with the twelve different kinds of villains that exist. I looked at this list recently to see whether or not Silas Winterbottom fit any of the molds. The problem then became not that he didn't fit any of them but that he fit too many! In the end I settled on seeing Silas as "The Corruptor". Sure he's got a bit of a psychopathic nature to him (feeding children to alligators counts here) and sure he was once "The Ambitious Businessman", but in the end the point of Silas in this book is the fact that he is using his advantage to corrupt his hitherto unknown nieces and nephew. The more they fight amongst themselves, the better he likes it. Giles is fully aware of this aspect to Silas's personality, as it happens, because it allows the children to create a secret weapon to defeat their uncle. Your villain always has to misjudge their enemy. In this particular case, Silas is incapable of seeing that the children will be able to bring him down if they overcome their differences and join together. That's a nice bit of plotting there, Mr. Giles. Well done.
The book's title suggests that there will be future episodes in the tales of these Winterbottoms, and certainly the ending is left open for more stories. That said, Giles is good enough to wrap up his storylines here and not leave us hanging. I'm sick to death of books in series just leaving plot points swaying in the wind these days. Drives me batty. "Silas" in contrast manages to be both a complete story and one that makes you want to read the sequel. Particularly since Milo's parents died under mysterious circumstances and their bodies were never found. Oh ah? In any case, this book is just the right combination of darkness and fun.