Anita's Haven

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NYSSA GLASS & THE HOUSE OF MIRRORS by H. L. Burke – my review no.59

on 23/06/2016

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This book was recomended to me by a friend who knows my fascination with old houses and their secrets, and quirky stories balancing the thin line between fantasy and reality, and my friend was right – I like this book.

The plot is engaging and imaginative. The main character, the 16-year-old orphan girl Nyssa, is well-portrayed; you practically get the full picture on her character through action scenes of the first 2 chapters, and then some added info later. The story oozes with elaborate gadgets and the quirkiness of details (vehicles, clothes, machines) is both fascinating and scary. The author’s style is fluent, easy to read and well-edited, with no superfluous words, but the right amount of description and action. The use of artificial intelligence and robotics will probably be a thrill for the geeks among readers, although for me, it was their human aspect which interested me most. The infinite whatifs in the potential of AI combined with human character are clearly displayed in the story with many of their positive and negative effects.

Nyssa Glass is a very curious and skillful teenager, great with electrical gadgetry but slightly weaker in social skills, who has pulled herself out of her shady, thieving, troublesome past, only to be pulled back in through scheming,  blackmail, violence and, ultimately, her own curiosity. She is a witty survivor with a good heart, and the only thing I missed was a sidekick for her. In a way, I did get my wish, but that remains to be explained for those who read the story.  I even liked her fashion sense and can see her in a movie.

The villains got me curious and I wished we’d had a closer look at them, especially Albriet (I envisioned her as Eva Green for some reason), who showed such facets to behaviour and speech that I wished she’d hung in there longer. In fact, the author shows great potential in portraying characters, the proof of which is also the brief but important appearance of the benevolent Mr C., and I hope to see her balancing more characters in her stories in the future.

The house Nyssa is ‘investigating’ for some shady customers with iffy motives but convincing arguments, is truly a nest of nasty and formidable surprises and horrifying shocks (avoiding spoilers). The author toys with the everlasting idea of humans who play the Creator (just) because they can, with personal agendas which, even if understandable, should always be questioned before implemented into action, but never are (or are questioned too late). Dr Frankenstein meets SF is  a motive which keeps the author balancing the thin line between Dr Frankenstein and SF.

If you are a fan of steampunk, Nyssa Glass has quite a wide age span. The main character, gadgetry, tentative young love and quirkiness are attractive for younger audiences, although there is some adult content. Being a parent and teacher myself, I worried, throughout the entire second half of the book, what age group I would feel comfortable with reading this kind of a story, and this is what steered me away from awarding the highest rating. Certain gruesome details and the weird romance do need parental guidance and are not for the faint-hearted and impressionable younger teenagers. Adults will find the morality issues interesting, especially because most of it is not guided by financial greed, but parental love and how far would we go to save our own child. However, for the adults, the romance in the end is slightly weaker when compared to the rest of the story. This is a story Tim Burton would be interested in, and for a younger teenager it may be emotionally charged, so they might need a warning such as ‘do not try this at home’. Then again, warnings are usually invitations for teenagers anyway.

The discoveries Nyssa makes in the house and the culmination of the story logically lend themselves to a sequel, which already exists and will make fans happy, thanks to the author’s intelligent writing and creativity. Nyssa and her new companion, an utterly uncommon couple, slightly eerie though romantic, will undoubtedly go through many more adventures and it will be a thrill to follow for those who like steampunk, interlaced wih horror, romance, wit and technology.

Since I have been asked to write this review for Readers Review Room, I am happy to award it a blue worm, well-deserved by the author’s writing style and vivid imagination.

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