Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish (Putnam, 2008) is, like its predecessor Foundling (Putnam, 2007), a dark and dense pleasure indeed. Young Rossamund has begun his prenticeship as an Emperor’s Lamplighter at the labyrinthine stronghold Winstermill and begins to adapt to the rigorous schedule. Rossamund has a remarkable talent for finding and befriending the gems among some truly rough characters, and these friends come in very handy as a sinister hidden plot results in Winstermill being controlled by nefarious schemers. To shorten the rest of the plot to one sentence – Rossamund and his reluctant friend Threnody are prematurely placed in the most dangerous, monster-ridden stronghold in the Empire, survive several nasty monster attacks, and end up back at Winstermill, where Rossamund is accused of something that the reader has suspected all along. What that is, you’ll have to discover for yourself; I’m no plot spoiler!
The many vivid characters and their intriguing relationships to each other, the intricate details of dress, routine, language, food, and everything else, and most of all Rossamund’s growing awareness of his own nature and thoughts about the world – these elements, bound together by masterful prose, make reading these two books an intense experience. Cornish has built an entire rich world, and I plunged into it gladly.
May I use that word “obsessive” again? Cornish’s drawings, tables, charts, glossary, and maps point to a seriously deranged mind. Reading these books is like reading a foreign language you’re not quite fluent in; you have to keep checking the glossary until finally you just let the strange words sweep you away into the story. In one section of Lamplighter, Rossamund and some others play a card game called Pirouette. Some general rules were given. I checked the glossary; there was an entry but the full rules weren’t given. However – I am quite sure that if I dropped by Mr. Cornish’s house in Australia and asked him to play a game of Pirouette with me, he’d whip out a deck of cards (handpainted by himself) and teach me to play.
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For obsessive readers grades 8 and up, including addled adults.