Since Jacob was a child, his grandfather has been telling him stories about a mysterious island with a house filled with peculiar children. Jacob's grandfather's family died in the second World War, but he himself was able to escape to this orphanage. The grandfather even has pictures of these children - one levitating in the air, one covered with bees, one with a mouth in the back on the head. Now that he is older, Jacob has realized those photos are, of course, just badly edited, not real. Or are they?
When Jacob's grandfather dies under absurd and tragic conditions, Jacob travels to Wales with his father. He finds the "magical" house his grandfather has talked about. Sadly it is far from magical now. It is just ruins of something that once was something grand. Jacob starts to go through the empty and destroyed rooms of the house in order to find something he could link to his grandfather. But then children from a very different time appear to the house - are these the children his father has been talking about? How is that even possible?
My expectations towards this book were extremely high since I had heard so many positive things about in on BookTube, with which I am obsessed at the moment. Sadly, I did not like it as much as I expected. It is given that the story is extremely imaginative, so full of little details like loops and hallows (I will not explain these since I don't want to spoil the book to you). I just want to give you an example of the fact that this book, in a way, has it's own vocabulary. Sadly, sometimes this "own vocabulary" and the common language used becomes a bit too much - at parts the novel is slightly "over-written", a metaphor after metaphor - I love books that are well written, but at some points I felt like this one was trying too much. The situation is the same with the photos - in general I loved the pictures that were used to aid the narration, but sometimes it felt that some pictures were inserted just for the sake of inserting a photo and thus became quite far-fetched with regards to the story.
What I enjoyed was the surprising factors of the story - for example the villain is something I did not expect. Sadly many of the characters, especially the children from the orphanage and Jacob's parents, are very one-sided and flat. The parents are cold and distant (this almost fells very convenient since it is a perfect reason for Jacob to escape to the "fantasy" world) where as the children from the orphanage are just peculiar - there really isn't that much that can be added to their personalities or character traits. I also feel like the character of Emma, the so-called love interest, was added to the story just to get some romance included in it. I do love young adult books with romance, but I think this one would not have necessarily needed it and thus the romance felt a bit forced. And kind of sick too - you will figure out what I mean if you read the book.
I wish this novel would have been a bit shorter since as it was, I became quite tired with it and just anxious to finish - I did not have that feeling of "I SIMPLY HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS" with this novel. I just wanted to get done with it so I can move onto next book. I usually love weird and peculiar things, but maybe this was a bit too peculiar for me? Or maybe just a bit too over written and overlong. It was also quite hard to get into it - the parts from the island are interesting, but the time before that, in my opinion, takes too much time away from the book. Jacob, as a narrator, is also a bit annoying, to be honest. He is a bit obnoxious and I think I kind of formed my opinion of him in the first few pages when he tries to get fired from his job and then complains when that does not happen. He is from a rich family and thus this has been used as an convenient explanation for how easy it is for Jacob just to get to Wales on his whim.
I don't want to be too negative because this novel had so much promise. Using the photos is a marvelous idea, but I wish they would have been a bit better selected and inserted on parts in which they were really needed. Sometimes it was just like "this is a photo of this and this" and then the photo was inserted there. I know I said that the novel was over written, but I wish the over writing would have inserted to some of these parts in which characters could have been described rather than just shown. At times this almost fell like a cheat for the writer.
Also one thing that kind of bothered me was the fact that this is a series since I do not really see how this story is going to move on. It would have been okay as a standalone book if some unnecessary detail would have been taken away and Riggs would have given us some type of conclusion. Well, since the novel is VERY CLEARLY written using a certain young adult template, I guess the whole series thing is understandable. Personally, I won't bother with the follow up books.