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Children's LiteratureThis latest escapade of the Strega-Borgia family mixes dangerous adventure with episodes of the absurd. The result is stylistically similar to The Addams Family; however, this novel in the "Pure Dead" series is not quite exaggerated enough to be farcical, nor is it serious enough to be high fantasy. Instead, the story seems to be caught somewhere in between the two genres. For example, while the author does an excellent job of subverting a reader's expectations of magical and dangerous creatures, she does little to explore the witches' magic in this story, mentioning their abilities only casually. The plot also contains a confusing web of story lines, including a replacement butler involved in eco-terrorism, a demon hunting a mythical gemstone, and a comical love affair between the resident dragon and the Sleeper (a Loch Ness-type monster). Unfortunately, none of these plot lines is resolved very well, clearly leaving space for another sequel to follow. Furthermore, while the parents are typically absent, their authority is transferred wholly onto the strangely very-much-present Mrs. McLachlan, a nanny who is treated as something of a wonder-woman. Finally, disturbing imagery peppers the novel, including mild scenes of torture, rabies, and the horrors of experimental labs. Overall, the book is entertaining but insubstantial. 2004, Borzoi Book/Alfred A. Knopf, Ages 10 to 14.