In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.
- John 14: 2
Fantasy novel by James Stoddard, his first. * * *
Carter Anderson was born in the Lilac Room of the High House, Evenmere. For a time after his mother died, he spent his childhood with his father, Ashton Anderson, Master of the house, and among the servants. Then one day, his father brought home a new bride. Lady Murmur bore Anderson another son, Duskin. From that moment she plotted and manipulated to make her son Anderson's successor, rather than Carter.
Carter had an inkling that his father was important in some fashion, but had no idea how great that importance was. When he was twelve, he learned that a group of "anarchists" was set upon ousting his father and taking over the house. Two horrible incidents related to the anarchists convinced Anderson to send his son away to live in the world outside. Sometime afterward, the Master vanished from the house, and letters from Evenmere ceased.
Having spent his entire life inside the High House, Carter little realized how remarkable the house was until he left it. Fourteen years after leaving Evenmere, Carter Anderson returned for the reading of his father's will. He was named Steward; only the house itself can choose another Master.
To call Evenmere a vast, sprawling house would be likening a thermonuclear explosion to a cap gun. It is a vast continent of a house. Rooms and corridors in various states of use and disuse, splendor and disrepair, stretch for miles. Nations have risen and fallen in sections of the house throughout its history. And now the house is in the midst of a war. Carter has to unlock its secrets before the anarchists destroy everything. And the anarchists have taken the keys!
On my second birthday my parents moved us into a larger house. I was just old enough to remember living in the house, climbing up and down its stairs and hiding in the cupboards, but hardly old enough to comprehend leaving one's home forever. The unexpected move did something to me: I would ask my parents when we were going back home, and when I finally realized that wasn't going to happen, I would dream of the magical old house. A visit later in my childhood shattered most of those dreams: None of the secret panels, trapdoors, hideyholes, and rooms I had dreamed of existed. (Perhaps some had, but I was now too big to fit in them). Even at that age, I realized I had been deluding myself.
To this day I still have dreams of living in a house other than the one I spent most of my childhood in, completely different but somehow still the same. So, you can imagine the spell that The High House has over me. I read the back cover blurb and bought it immediately.
A few spelling mistakes made their way through the galley proof stage, and the prose is tinged with mauve from time to time. Female characters are few, and rather cardboard. But The High House is still spellbinding, having that air of a fable immanent in the very best fantasy. It is well worth buying and reading; if you liked Harry Potter you will like this. I am heartened that Fantasy is away from mere swords and sorcery back towards the time when monsters awaited those who strayed past the campfire's circle. I eagerly await James Stoddard's second, and later novels.