Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
The Adventures of Mulberry Manor is a YA sci-fi/action/thriller novel that has aspects of a haunted house or monster story. That's quite a combination!
This book took us by surprise! The first section of this book is extremely unassuming, perhaps even a little boring. We're introduced to a pair of siblings, Jade and Teddy, who are sent to the strange and mysterious Lakeside Estates, a suburb, by their somewhat sketchy dad, Fenton. Specifically, they are sent to live at the Mulberry Manor with their Grammy, Mabel.
Mabel reminded us a lot of Madea (from the Tyler Perry movies) a tough-loving granny who packs a punch and perhaps has a few dark secrets in her closet.
As charismatic as Mabel is, it's really Jade and Teddy who commanded much of our concern and attention. Jade is Teddy's older sister by two years, and she clearly cares about and looks after him (as older siblings do). There are also times when Teddy steps in to help and protect his sister, which is sweet to see. We haven't seen a brother and sister duo this compelling since Magic, Mystery, and Multiverse by Aurora Winter (in which Ana and Zachary stole our hearts).
This book initially reads like a standard story about a fish-out-of-water-family coming to a strange town. Teddy quickly develops a crush on Sunny, a waitress of the restaurant managed by Cairo (another major character we'll get to later). This instantly ingratiates you to Teddy who comes across as an awkward yet lovable teen who is coming of age.
You're introduced to the mayor of the town, Mayor Higgins, who instantly comes across as a corrupt and crooked individual. Mayor Higgins, unsurprisingly, is one of the main villains of the story, a “man” with clear Machiavellian machinations and motives.
This book abruptly goes from a rather monotonous, standard literary tale to an outright alien invasion/monster fest! Snake-like creatures called Reptivians invade Lakeside through a portal that links the Earth to their dimension—the town's best/worst kept secret. This isn't just a simple incident that happens, then resolves. This results in a long, drawn-out, multifaceted, multi-layered battle between the forces of good (our heroes and the townfolks) and the Reptivians.
This really woke us up and raised our excitement level (which had waned).
It turns out that there's a lot more than meets the eye. The Reptivians, while barbaric in their appearance and violent methods, are not stupid, unintelligent, disorganized, or simple minded. They are actually rather sophisticated in terms of their command structure and culture. Yes, they even have their own culture! They even await a messianic figure they call “The Exalted One.”
Their command structure is rather sophisticated. Below the “Exalted One” is Lord Scrynthor, a tyrant fighting to hold onto his power as the trust of his people has waned. There are also “Overmasters” like Gordron and Ludnor. Mayor Higgins lies in waiting as a sort of l'eminence grise, constantly meddling to put himself in an advantageous position in the hierarchy.
Mayor Higgins really reminded us of the mayor from Buffy, otherwise know as the best villain in the show's history. He's one of those characters that you'll love to hate.
This book does jump the shark and start airing on the absurd/ridiculous side, focusing less on Jade and Teddy while focusing a lot more on Fenton, Paul, and Cairo—who we imagine to be the classic muscle-bound, tanned 80s action movie stars.
It also features a talking dog!
This is a really solid and fun book.
Check it out on Amazon!