I know the old cliché is to 'never judge a book by its cover' buh a cover as gorgeous as this how could I possibly resist? The blurb then sealed the deal;
A dark and twisted Victorian melodrama, like Alice in Wonderland goes to Hell, from the author of The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath.
Two orphans, Pedrock and Boo Boo, are sent to live in the sinister village of Darkwound. There they meet and befriend the magical and dangerous Mr Loveheart and his neighbour, Professor Hummingbird, a recluse who collects rare butterflies. Little do they know that Professor Hummingbird has attracted the wrath of a demon named Mr Angelcakes.
One night, Mr Angelcakes visits Boo Boo and carves a butterfly onto her back. Boo Boo starts to metamorphose into a butterfly/human hybrid, and is kidnapped by Professor Hummingbird. When Mr Loveheart attempts to rescue her with the aid of Detective White and Constable Walnut, they too are turned into butterflies.
Caught between Professor Hummingbird and the demon Angelcakes, Loveheart finds himself entangled in a web much wider and darker than he could have imagined, and a plot that leads him right to the Prime Minister and even Queen Victoria herself…
The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl is a sort of sequel to 'The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath', true to form I haven't (yet) read that title but fortunately while it features some of the same characters (Loveheart, Detective White and Constable Walnut) it works just as well as a stand alone novel.
It's hard to write a normal review of this book because it isn't a normal book. The closest I think I can come to describe it is to think of Roald Dahl at his darkest, Alice in Wonderland, Hilaire Belloc and a bit of The League of Gentlemen all mixed together with cakes and body parts in a kaleidoscope. It's the most colourful, inventive and fun novel I've read for a long time. Mr Loveheart in particular is a complete delight of a character, Lord of the Underworld, a killer (but only of bad people) who decorates his garden with decapitated heads, and a lover of puddings,
'The tearooms appear! Manifest before me. A pot of tea and an enormous slab of chocolate cake will be mine, for I am a Prince of the Underworld, and I do love a moist piece of cake.'
Boo Boo is also a wonderful character, at first seemingly a Dickensian type orphan but after Mr Angelcakes visits her she is transformed into a deadly weapon who violently and gleefully dispatches her victims. And Loveheart and Boo Boo are the characters you'll be rooting for, evil Heap is something else again! The characters though aren't all there is to love here, the plot while outrageous and often laugh out loud funny is still a gripping and thrilling adventure.
The body count in The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl is high, blood flows freely, despite my comparison to Dahl this is not a book for young children. Yet it's still a fantastical story, a nod to the brutality of fairy tales of old and Victorian melodramas while remaining fresh and playful throughout. I loved every mad moment.
Many thanks for my ARC of The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl by Ishbelle Bee received from the publishers, Angry Robot Books through NetGalley in return for my honest review.