It's Christmas Eve and Kay's archaeologist father hasn't come home. When Kay, her mother, and younger sister Ell go to look for him at the university, no-one seems to know who he is and a strange woman has taken over his office. When they return home there is a card on Kay's bed:
Will O. de Wisp, Gent. F.H.S.W.P.
Phillip R. T. Gibbet, Gent. F.H.S.W.P.
And then in the middle of the night, there are voices out on the roof ... voices Kay shouldn't be able to hear ...
If you're expecting a face-paced twisty turny race to find Kay's father, you will (like many readers) be disappointed. I also expected this type of story and was initially thrown. What Andrew Zurcher gives us in Twelve Nights is an beautiful, poetic, brainstretching, allegorical story about storytelling reminiscent of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and full of Greek, Egyptian and Northern European mythology. But it is slow...and the level of abstraction, the sentence structure, and the vocabulary means this is definitely not a book everyone will enjoy. In fact, it's a book many will never finish if goodreads is anything to go by.
If you loved Philip Pullman and get a kick out of Shakespeare, Greek mythology, and epic poetry of the 16th Century, you'll love this. If however, you found Alice in Wonderland confusing and a little boring, this is probably not for you. This could be read by a very smart 10-year-old but I actually think it is going to appeal most to adults who love children's books...like all of us here!
PS. You can find a glossary by Andrew Zurcher here and his references to Aristotle, Ovid, Homer, Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and dialectical synthesis give you an idea of what to expect in this book.
Kay's father is working late - as usual. Fed up, her mother bundles her daughters into the car and drives to her husband's Cambridge college to collect him herself. But when they arrive, the staff claim that nobody by his name has ever worked there . . .
Kay is puzzled by her mother's reaction - silent tears, not anger and confusion. And what is even more puzzling is the card on her pillow when they return home:
Will O. de Wisp, Gent. F.H.S.P. and Phillip R. T. Gibbet, Gent. F.H.S.P. K.Bith. REMOVALS.
That night, Kay is woken by voices at her window: the voices of Will and Phillip, the Removers. But they are not human. And Kay shouldn't be able to see them. Except she can . . .
Andrew Zurcher is Director of Studies in English at Queens' College, Cambridge, and a leading international expert on the works of Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare. Twelve Nights is his debut novel.