Book Review: The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill

13 Feb

Oliver Mackenzie Brown hates the thought of leaving everything he knows to live in a run-down house in the country his parents thought would be a good idea to buy. When the family arrives, there’s no heat, the roof is leaking, the barn is falling in on itself, and strange rune-marked stones are appearing everywhere. Olly soon meets KK and Nonny Dreever who explain that the Stone King wants to take back Gullywith. With only an army of brass tortoises and bats on their side, and some help from a mysterious bookseller, will they be able to save the house—and themselves—from the Stone King?
I think if you are a younger reader than I am, who has read a lot less than I have, who is more willing to suspend your disbelief, you would enjoy this book a lot more than I did. Though I am 22 years old and an avid reader of children’s fiction, I don’t find that I come across books that make me say “if I was younger I’d like it” very often. (Ask me again when I’m thirty—attending a university that cancelled classes once a year to encourage everyone to dress up like fairies might have extended my childhood a little bit.)
The point is, this was technically urban fantasy (maybe that’s not the right term—modern fantasy?). It took place in contemporary times and strange, wacky things kept happening and Olly kept looking at them like “Oh, isn’t that interesting, I’ll roll with that” and as readers we don’t get an explanation as to why moving brass tortoises suddenly appear, or why a colony of bats is helping out, or how the characters know they’re helping in the first place. We are completely thrown when a Stone King starts turning Olly and KK to stone. And I wasn’t entirely sold on the Stone King’s role as an antagonist even after that, because from what I can understand, Gullywith was his to begin with and was taken away and now he wants it back—legit, right?
And if the plot was confusing, the characters were irritating. I mean, they actually had their own personalities and acted within each personality’s bounds, but I couldn’t stand any of them. Olly’s parents were probably the worst—the mother wanted to buy Gullywith in the first place, and all she did was complain about it from the second they walked through the door. The father was a bit of a pushover and reprimanded Olly a handful of times for reasons I couldn’t understand, and both of the parents kept foisting the toddler sister onto Olly, who was only 10, and had some saving the world to do. (I actually wasn’t entirely sold on the sister’s whole purpose in the book. She probably could have been cut and no one would miss the “dada gaga mama” babble in the background of conversation.)
It seemed strange to me that Olly himself was so dead set against Gullywith, and yet a few hours after they arrive, as he’s sulking on the garden wall, KK appears and magically everything is okay with Gullywith. Yeah, his adventures start and whatnot, but it just seems too sudden. If he’d had some internal monologue about “wouldn’t it be great if we’d never lived here so I didn’t have all this responsibility on my shoulders” I would have been more okay with it. Alas.
That said, I thought the setting was quite well done—described well enough to be magical, while keeping in mind that it really is more modern. Despite all the happenings, it made me want to live at Gullywith—but I have a thing for cool, old, magical houses.
The book isn’t without its merits, but I had trouble stemming a flow of questions with each turn of the page. The intended audience would enjoy The Battle for Gullywith a lot more than I did.
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One Response to “Book Review: The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill”

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  1. 2013: A Year of Reading in Review | More Than One Page - December 26, 2013

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