This spine-tingling tale by the author of the Hollow Kingdom trilogy features a plucky heroine, a stranger with a dark secret and an angry mob. War has diminished the field of eligible bachelors in Maddie's medieval Scottish village, so when a handsome and talented young woodcarver comes to town as sidekick to a peddler, she's instantly interested. No sooner than he arrives, though, strange things start happening. Maddie fends off a menacing creature during the full moon, the young man is grievously attacked by something with sharp claws and a baby is born with "the mouth of a beast," and soon dies. The superstitious villagers have various suspects-the folkloric Water Horse; a vicious creature who lives in the loch; Lady Mary, the cronish lone inhabitant of the ramshackle castle; and finally, the carver's peddler friend, Ned, who has a taste for drink and a sharp tongue. Ned's murder (and subsequent decapitation) adds a gruesome element to this Beauty and the Beast variant. Maddie knows the identity of the real culprit, and must be willing to risk her life to end its threat. Her devotion to the carver, who is nearly mute and devoid of personality, isn't convincingly established, and the title-an allusion to the fingers of two hands-is also a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, Dunkle creates a menacing atmosphere for this chillingly good tale. Readers will cheer Maddie on as she wrestles-and conquers-her deepest fears. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A mysterious young wood carver and his unseemly drunken employer have arrived in Maddie's small Scottish town. The girl is drawn to the silent, artistic man and his beautiful handicrafts. Circumstances compel Paul to stay in the village longer than he intended, and Maddie takes advantage of the time to win his trust. She learns that his name is Paul, and she learns some about his travels, but she knows there is something major that he is hiding from her. What is this sudden, strange illness which comes upon him? Why does he move around so much? What does he need from the man who came to town with him? As time goes on, Maddie comes to know his secret. But what she will do with that knowledge, and what it will mean for her, her family, and her village? Clare Dunkle's novel is set in a time of strong superstition. The violence of Paul's secret is, in many ways, more empathy-rending and less disturbing than the violence of some power-hungry townspeople. This story is disturbing, but its conclusion is satisfying. 2005, Henry Holt, Ages 12 to 16.
Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Maddie lives in a feudal Scottish village with a nearly abandoned castle by a loch. After an itinerant old man, Ned, accompanied by a mute woodcarving boy, stops to trade for a time, her nightmares of bones and ruin are soon followed by a mysterious attack on the boy, Paul, who is found bleeding, raked by claws, and feverish. The villagers attribute the attack to the Water Horse, which is believed to rise from the loch to wreak havoc periodically. Maddie eventually pierces Paul's silence, which is voluntary, and his secret, which is not. Paul is a werewolf, chained on nights of a full moon in remote locations by Ned to keep him "safe" from himself and others. Ned is executed, but not before revealing to Maddie that the only cure for Paul is for a willing victim to be killed-eaten alive. Maddie knows what she has to do and crawls to Paul, transforming and slavering in his cave, only to awaken at home in her bed, finding that both she and Paul have survived and will live happily ever after. The moody setting lends a romantic and mysterious air, as does the cover art and the age-old theme of self-sacrifice, which will appeal to fans of the genre. If the plot seems unnecessarily convoluted, the integration of historical details of medieval village life and beliefs provides interest. Fans of Patrick Jennings's The Wolving Time (Scholastic, 2003) will likely enjoy this one, too.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Just as in the old ballads, true love defeats horror when magic strikes a Scottish village. The handsome traveling woodcarver who's come to her tiny community fascinates Maddie. The village's belligerent leader, Black Ewan, shanghais the carver's drunken companion to help with the harvest and Maddie is pleased that he and his friend will be around for a while. But that very night, a ferocious beast attacks the village, and the carver is found bleeding and feverish. The villagers think the carver heroically fought off a monster, but Maddie suspects the more sinister truth: The handsome and likable youth is afflicted with a terrible curse. The only cure, the dismayed girl learns, is almost more dreadful than the disease. The archetypal romance and blend of Christianity with paganism fits well among these lovingly described medieval Scots. The carver, less fawningly described than the heroes of Dunkle's previous books, is correspondingly a richer and more compelling character, and Maddie's initiative is endearing. (Fantasy. 12-14)
From the Publisher
“Dunkle creates a menacing atmosphere for this chillingly good tale. Readers will cheer Maddie on as she wrestles—and conquers—her deepest fears.”—Publishers Weekly
“Readers with a taste for fantasy rooted in folklore and history, and a stomach for grisly horror, will happily roam the mist-shrouded Highlands of Dunkle’s latest creation.”—Booklist
A Bank Street Best Book
A NY Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Read an Excerpt
Maddie had just taken supper to Lady Mary in the castle, and now she was looking forward to her own meal. She stepped out of the tower into the clear light of a summer evening, studying the silhouettes of the great birds flying down to the loch.
"Madeleine!" called a low voice. She turned to find the woodcarver standing there. He was staring straight at her with those piercing green eyes, and her heart skipped a beat.
"I didn't know you could talk!" she said in delight. "It's Maddie, though; only Father Mac calls me Madeleine."
The carver looked around cautiously and stepped closer. "Help me find Ned," he said in a husky whisper. "I've searched for him everywhere."
"The old man's chained up with Mad Angus. He and Black Ewan had a fight."
"Chained up!" exclaimed the young man. "He can't be chained up! When will he be free?"
"Probably in a few weeks," Maddie answered. "Dad said Black Ewan said after the harvest."
"But what am I going to do?" he asked, looking stunned. "Can we free him somehow?"
"What, take the key from Black Ewan?" She laughed. "It's a little beyond us, I'd say. He'd knock me silly, for a start, and it's more than your life's even worth."
"More than my life's worth," muttered the young man. "That's not much." He stood for a minute looking around at the castle, the loch, the far hills. If he sought inspiration, he didn't find any. He looked at her again, hopeless and frustrated. Then he walked away.
"Where are you going?" demanded the mystified girl, but he didn't answer. By the time she could follow, he was well ahead of her. She watched him walk off into the distance, taking thepath along the shore of the loch.
Maddie fell asleep thinking of the good-looking carver boy. If he had been remarkable before, he was close to perfect now. His speech wasn't foreign, like the drunken Englishman. He spoke just like she did. Maybe he'd been stolen from his cradle by the wandering Travelers, and that was why he wasn't like Ned. He might be a nobleman by birth. He might even be the son of a chief.
But if Maddie's thoughts were pleasant ones, her dreams were dark and grim. She wandered through her town as thunder rumbled in the swollen clouds above, but not one living person did she find. The houses were silent and abandoned, their belongings tossed about. Filth covered the dirt floors, and some of the roofs had fallen in. Everywhere was the smell of decay.
Strewn across the weedy ground between the houses lay an untidy mosaic of bones. They glimmered white and phosphorescent in the dim twilight of the storm. Flesh still clung to some, dried and blackened. So many were underfoot that she couldn't help stepping on them.
The little parish church was completely destroyed, the rock walls torn apart. Gravestones were tossed aside and graves dug open, to let something in-or to let it out. Not a single creature moved in that ghastly land of death. The only sound was the sighing of the wind and the ominous growling of the thunder.
The girl stood bewildered in the middle of her town. What could have accomplished this destruction? Human raiders would never have dug up the churchyard. Animals wouldn't have left the bones behind. Some evil of the ancient world had descended upon this place, a thing that kept both people and animals away. Maddie froze, caught by an abrupt foreboding. That thing was still here.
An enemy stalked the vacant houses and corpse-littered ground, hunting her as its prey. She saw nothing, heard nothing beyond the empty rush of wind. But the air grew cold, and then very cold. A black shadow fell over her.
Maddie sat bolt upright in the box bed, her heart pounding wildly. Her mother and father slept peacefully beside her, and her town was not a welter of bones. Bright moonlight poured into the room through the open doorway, and perfect stillness reigned outside. But the room was freezing cold, colder than the bitter nights of winter, and Maddie felt a hideous presence. The enemy had not stayed behind in her nightmare. It had followed her here.
A low murmuring came to her, a hissing, bubbling, muttering sound from the back wall of the house. Slowly it passed along the windowless wall, and she followed the noise to the storeroom. The muttering thing was moving around the end of the house. It was coming toward the open doorway.
Teeth chattering, Maddie made the Sign of the Cross and knelt by the hearth in the middle of the room. Shutting the door wouldn't help. It was nothing but a wickerwork panel covered with hide. Waking her parents wouldn't help, either. The thing was almost here. She scraped the ashes of the hearth, hoping to find a friendly spark underneath, but the peat coals had been bedded for the night and would need coaxing to come back to life. Like a hare in a trap, she stared at the moonlit square of the open doorway, the only way out of the house. Her hands fumbled over the hearthstones and found her mother's bannock spade.
Colin the Smith had made his sister a spatula of iron to turn the oatcakes on the hearth. Its wooden handle felt solid in Maddie's hand, and its thin, heart-shaped wedge came to a point at the front. It wasn't a knife, but it was a weapon of sorts, and Maddie felt glad of it. She clutched it and listened as the bubbling sounds came nearer.
The square of moonlight vanished into inky blackness as a shape moved in front of the door. Maddie prayed for her life and hurled the iron weapon. A sound burst from the thing, a loud whistling shriek. When she opened her eyes, that great black shape was gone.
"What is it?" demanded her father, scrambling up from the bed, and then Fair Sarah's arms were around her.
"Something outside," she whimpered, hugging her mother. "Something big at the door. It hissed."
"I'll go see," decided James Weaver, taking his knife from the top of the wall. Then he froze right where he was. Maddie stopped in the middle of a word, and her mother's arms gripped her tightly.
A weeping, worrying sound rose into the night from somewhere very close. It keened and whined, gaining strength, until it became a scream, wavering in the air while time stood still. As it faded away, the three huddled together, clinging to each other for support.
"I'll just-just-go see," stammered her father, holding the knife in trembling hands.
"Jamie," sobbed his wife, "oh, Jamie, don't go out there."
A shadow fell across the doorway again, and Maddie gave a gasp. "James," called Black Ewan's voice, "is all well with you?"
"Yes," answered the weaver, shaking off his family. He wrapped his woolen blanket around his waist and shoulders, and he and the farmer walked away into the moonlight. Maddie and her mother heard the voices of neighbors calling from house to house, the bawling of cattle, and the wailing of children.
Fair Sarah knelt by the hearth and built the fire, whispering over the spent coals the morning prayer to the Trinity. The frightened girl followed her lead, starting her chores, and the night began to brighten into the dim gray of early dawn.
They heard the men coming back, talking loudly, their voices strained and excited. "Did you find it?" demanded Fair Sarah anxiously, going to the door. "What was it? Did it get away?"
The men came into the house. Black Ewan and Colin the Smith were carrying something heavy, but Maddie couldn't see what it was.
"It got away," said her father. "We don't know where it went. But it found that young woodcarver on the path near the castle, and we don't know if he's going to live."
Copyright © 2005 Clare B. Dunkle