I thought I’d love Greenglass House by Kate Milford before I even opened it, primed as I was after reading Sherry’s review of it. I was, in fact, captivated by the opening pages. Greenglass House is a mystery with a very interesting setting: a great inn known for its huge, stained glass windows, as well as its rather nefarious clientele: smugglers running the Skidwrack River into the town of Nagspeake. Milo Pine is the innkeepers’ son and is looking forward to his Christmas vacation. However, no sooner has Milo shed his schoolday responsibilities than unexpected guests begin to arrive at the inn and Milo’s life quickly turns more complicated than he desires for a holiday break. Along with the odd assortment of guests comes intrigue. It’s up to Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, to determine the guests’ motives for coming to the inn at such an unusual time of year and to solve the mystery once some of the guests’ personal belongings begin to disappear. The mystery somehow involves a notorious smuggler named Doc Holystone and the beautiful stained glass windows of Greenglass House. Milo is a very introspective protagonist; his own adoption by his loving parents naturally causes him no end of rumination throughout the story. Through his relationship with Meddy and the working out of the mystery, Milo learns a bit about himself and his place in the world.
A few things about the story undermined my enjoyment of it. One, it got off to a slow start, and it took the first third of the story for me to feel fully engaged with the plot. Two, the chapters are exceedingly long. Believe it or not, this is a big deal to me, and it actually means that it takes me longer to read the book than it might if the chapters were shorter. (I’ll take a look at a chapter when I finally retire for the night and decide it’s not worth even starting it if it’s too long.) Another thing is Milo’s and Meddy’s taking of alternate names and personas through a retro role-playing game (?) that Meddy suggests to Milo early in the story. It took me a long time to even remember what the various roles were, and I mostly feel like this is an unnecessary distraction to the mystery. I prefer my mysteries to be pretty straightforward and without other sorts of plot complications. It turns out, too, that this story fits into the speculative fiction genre (and was nominated for a 2014 Cybils in that category for elementary/middle graders). This move into the speculative fiction genre happens by way of a plot twist that comes late in the story, but it still seems a little too deus ex machina or something to me. With all of those caveats, I did enjoy this story. It’s a rather sophisticated tale, though at times it seemed a little cumbersome and creaky. It is a slow moving, instrospective sort of story, but it would be a worthwhile read for the right reader. (Clarion, 2014)
Side note: I wondered when I first started the novel if the main character’s name, Milo, had any link to Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth. I didn’t discern any noticable connections through my reading, though I was gratified to note that Elizabeth Bird also noticed the name. And then, lo and behold, I was checking out Kate Milford’s blog when I happened upon this post. Hmmmm. . . 🙂