Although Hector Fitzbaudly has always lived a plush life on the posh side of the River Foedus, he’s yearned to slip away from his comfortable home and see the seedy side of Urbs Umida. Unfortunately, he gets his chance when a blackmail artist confronts his father with a terrible secret from his past, and Hector finds himself penniless and on the streets. He is determined to get his revenge against the man responsible, who has been a pauper, a gentleman, and an Eyeball Collector—stealing jewels from the wealthy to make false eyes to replace his missing one. He is a master of disguise, and a swindler who moves from place to place.
Hector trails the Eyeball Collector to the small village of Pagus Parvus and the foreboding Withypitts Hall, run by the eccentric Lady Mandible who has a strange taste for the macabre. He takes a job incubating butterflies for Lady Mandible, and places himself in the perfect position to take revenge. Hector is so close to the Eyeball Collector, but will he be able to go through with his plan?
Once again, F. E. Higgins takes readers into her world filled with grand balls and hairy-backed beasts, plotting nobility and clever orphans, and creates a spine-tingling story that is her most eerie yet.
“Ultimately, this story is about not letting oneself sink to the level of one’s enemies, but readers will be most taken by the delightfully dense atmospherics fairly dripping off the pages. Readers need not be familiar with Higgins’ other books, but the hints dropped in to tie the world together will likely send them hunting for more while awaiting the next. A hyperquel, perhaps?”—Booklist
“Readers with a taste for lurid prose, macabre twists, riddles, exotic poisons, high-society caricatures, murderous schemes and scenes of stomach-churning degeneracy will find some or all of these in every chapter, and though the author trots in multiple characters and references from previous episodes, this one stands sturdily on its own.”—Kirkus Reviews
“It is a dark and diabolical story, set in an alternative universe that is distinctly Dickensian and peopled with Higgins’s creepiest cast yet. . . . Higgins’s clever and intricate plot moves along swiftly. Her dark atmosphere is well drawn, with stunning graphic images that are not for the faint of heart. Riddles are laced throughout the novel, with answers appended. . . . This ‘polyquel’ will appeal to mature readers who enjoy highly imagined dark stories.”—School Library Journal
“As in companion books The Black Book of Secrets (rev. 1/08) and The Bone Magician, oddities checker the plot; coincidences drive the narrative; threads from previous stories emerge and are rewoven into the fabric. Here the gothic tension is ratcheted even higher. . . . In the end, Hector must choose between his desire for revenge and his father’s advice not to become like those who wronged him—but his choice doesn’t prevent the climactic orgy of macabre circumstances that will leave readers shivering with pleasurable horror.”—The Horn Book Review
“Higgins has a marvelous flair for the macabre, and her deft pacing escalates to a satisfying crescendo of shivers. . . . Readers who appreciate the grotesqueries of Cirque du Freaks—but packaged with fine writing and a well-conceived plot—will want to add this to their collection.”—BCCB