Review Blog

Apr 16 2010

Candle man by Glenn Dakin

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Egmont, 2010.
A ghostly London cemetery near 'Kensington Gore' was the inspiration and opening scene for this weird Gothic/fantasy story. Theo, the hero, is a prisoner of the evil Dr Saint and is allowed one venture outside per year on his birthday. He discovers a present , a snowdome with a cryptic message, left for him on a headstone. Thus begins the unravelling of all he has been led to believe in his 13 years. Dr Saint, head of the misnamed Society of Good Works has told Theo that he, Theo, has a dreadful condition which means he cannot be around others and which necessitates him being immersed daily in a Mercy Tube which drains him of energy.
Next, a burglary reveals to Theo that he has the power to melt people with just a touch- hence he is the Candle Man. Confused as to his identity, Theo escapes from Empire Hall with the aid of three members of The Society of Eternal Vigilance. Thus begins a series of conflicts between the two societies and a classic good v evil scenario. Theo learns that Dr Saint has twisted language to his own ends, 'We will see a happier world - where only the chosen few will suffer the anxieties of power and the burden of riches -where the ordinary man will enjoy the virtues of poverty and the bliss of slavery.'(p119)
The settings for the ensuing conflicts vary from underground caverns to cathedrals and towers and include all kinds of mythical, extinct and fantasy creatures. There are garghouls (man like figures with pointed horns and bat wings), a Dodo, giant Siberian Wolf rats the size of terriers, Foundling slaves and smoglodytes - ugly imps with transparent skin 'revealing bubbling gas and shrivelled organs pulsating inside' (p133). Dr Saint seems indestructible and Theo learns the Dr had been siphoning power from Theo for himself. It culminates, of course, in a life and death struggle between them.
For all the imaginative special effects this is an unsatisfying story. Meandering and confusing, it seems to have needed good editing with less being much much more. The themes of learning one's true identity, misusing language and establishing trust after a childhood of abuse are submerged in the endless fighting. There is little real suspense as Theo and his allies are rescued as soon as they are trapped and there is insufficient character development for us to really care about them. Glenn Dakin seems to have written this as an action movie; some boys from upper primary to middle school may persist with this one.
Kevyna Gardner

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