Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: The Aviary - Kathleen O'Dell

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fantasy, mystery
Published on September 12, 2011
Published by Knopf
Pages: 337

The Glendoveer mansion was once the magnificent home of a famous magician and illusionist. But now it is crumbling and nearly closed down - home only to the magician's aging widow, a cage full of exotic birds, a cook, a housekeeper, and the housekeeper's eleven-year-old daughter, Clara. 

Clara loves Mrs. Glendoveer, but the birds in the aviary frighten her - they always seem to screech and squall whenever she's near. Until one day when the mynah. . . .speaks. "Elliot," he says. "Hurry!" 
When Clara asks if the name Elliot means anything, she unwittingly tugs at the edge of a decades-old mystery. She learns the tragic tale of the Glendoveer children, who were kidnapped and later drowned - all but baby Elliot, who was never seen again. No arrest was ever made, but the children's own father, the great magician, stood accused until his death.
As Clara digs deeper into the Glendoveers' past, she stumbles onto secrets from her own past as well. Will the mysteries never end? Somehow the birds in the aviary seem to be at the center of it all, and Clara can't shake the feeling that they are trying to tell her something. If only the mynah would say more than "Elliot!"


This was a strange little story, and I was anticipating that. It's a strangeness that, because of its era and the fact that it deals with an illusionist, works. The twists are easy to figure out once the Author has presented all the pieces that are needed, and thankfully the characters also piece it together within seconds after the Reader, which alleviates a lot of potential frustration. Slow-witted characters can be so annoying. And while Clara is a rather timid girl with heart problems, she possesses enough courage and curiosity and practicality to make her a good adventuress and amateur detective. Her friend, Daphne, is thoroughly entertaining and behaves just as a friend ought. I liked her.

The villain in this story is rather obvious (it's a case of "well, it simply cannot be anyone else because there is no one else), but it offers a lot of surprising twists that are satisfying in their revelation to make up for it. And in truth, I would rather have an obvious villain than have the Author suddenly say, "Surprise! This random character who has never been in the story before, until now, is the villain!" Because then it just seems that the Author intentionally led the Reader to suppose it was this person because they couldn't create a good twist.

This is another case where a happy ending actually worked. It has somewhat of a bittersweet feel to it, but mostly it's a sweet end, but it worked, just as the weirdness factor worked. All in all, I really liked it.

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