Oh. Oh, OH it’s Magic. Complete Magic.
I am so incredibly delighted to be celebrating The Creature Keeper by the lovely Damaris Young today.
The Creature Keeper is Damaris’ second children’s novel after her amazing debut last year with the spectacular and spooky fantastical Africa set quest The Switching Hour of which I am a HUGE fan.
Cora finds speaking to people difficult, she can’t ‘read’ people well and words get stuck in her throat; but with animals, she has a gift.
So when the roof of the family farmhouse collapses, Cora decides to take the job of Creature Keeper at Direspire Hall, a place seen by the local community as cursed by the terrible creatures they hear howling and the permanent mist that surrounds the turrets.
And she is good at it, so good in fact that it begins to make her challenge everything she believes.
I didn’t want to go back inside , Where I knew they would be talking in hushed voices about all the things that trouble them. The failing crops. Our crumbling home. Our empty cupboards. And me. Their strange, lonely daughter who preferred talking to animals than people.
If you were secretly wishing and hoping for things to turn supernatural in historical fiction tales especially like in The Garden of Lost Secrets, this is the book for you.
The story here switches to a setting most European readers may recognise, though a similarly near-reality, quasi historical, low tech, edge of wonder style world following the tale of a girl who is more comfortable speaking to animals than humans whose gifts brings her into the life of some extraordinary creatures.
In a large glasshouse/Orangerie in the grounds of Direspire Hall lives a menagerie of wondrous creatures and is the source of whispered terrors and fears after Lady Cavendish’s parents died in tragic circumstances.
Without giving too much away about the menagerie, all I can express is the joy I experienced as Damaris leads us through starting with a macaw and tortoises before revealing much more spectacular and whimsical creatures through the winding paths.
This juxtaposition of the historical rural community and the realistic struggles of poverty in the shadow of privilege against the magic and wonder of the menagerie creates this beautiful escapism for both our protagonist Cora and the reader, and makes us want a world where this actually exists.
I was realising just how little I knew about the creatures of the world. There was so much I hadn’t seen, so much I didn’t know about.
if you felt a pull of magic when reading of the power of nature and the importance of protecting creatures in eco-fantasy such as The International Yeti Collective or Where the World Turns Wild, then this is the book for you.
The Switching Hour had an eco-fantasy parable feel with its exploration of how climate change and resulting drought awakens a nightmarish creature that steals children & memories of that child, but not the feeling of loss, perhaps in allegory to both the impact of climate disaster and the recognised psychological impact of lost nature in our world.
The Creature Keeper follows this train of eco-fable message in the fantastical and looks at the way that we treat the natural world, particularly animals. It is a manifesto on the subject of zoos, spectaculars and private animal collections (not talking about sanctuaries or protected reservations!!) and the ethics of keeping wild animals whether for pleasure, study or personal gain regardless of intentions, care or expertise.
“Extraordinary,” Lady Cavendish whispered, but I hardly noticed her presence anymore. The cold and dark room melted away until it was just the creature and me.
If you ever dream of a world of natural magic embedded in all that is, around, above, below, like the natural wild world in The Wild Folk this is the book for you.
As Cora discovers the spectacular menagerie of Direspire Hall and the adventures and writings of Lady Cavendish’s parents there is this incredible magic woven into the creatures especially one in particular (no more said because spoilers!!!) that makes you ache and yearn for this all to be real, that there is magic left in the world, that there is something left to be saved, if we have the courage to let it be free.
Damaris has a real gift for seeding the path with emotion, drawing us in to not only Cora’s story but that of others and the creatures without us realising it. Little nudges here and there from conversations and private moments of vulnerability endear us to the characters without being mushy or depending on cliches, we tumble into caring deeply for our characters and their well-being and success.
The swell of emotion I felt as the book came to a close (and I was aching for it not to end) was truly immense, a truly beautiful read from start to finish. (and extra sweet in the acknowledgements 💜💜💜)
Such ability is amongst the greatest children’s writers, of which Damaris surely belongs and as her ability grows and grows I truly cannot wait to see what she produces next.
I sat so still that nature forgot existed and I melted into the undergrowth.
I’m delighted to have shared with you my thoughts on the wonderful The Creature Keeper by Damaris Young, I think this is a book that offers much to many readers and I hope that I’ve inspired you to pick up this brilliant and moving book.
And PLEASE check out the other stops on this Blog Tour celebration!!!
The Creature Keeper by Damaris Young is published by Scholastic.