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The Owl Service    by Alan Garner order for
Owl Service
by Alan Garner
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (1975)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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*   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Alan Garner's The Owl Service, originally published in 1967, is being re-released by Odyssey Classics. While the story is more engaging and faster paced than some sixties children's fantasies, I am afraid that many of today's readers especially those in North America will be as lost as I was at some points in it.

Alison is holidaying with her mother, new stepfather, and stepbrother Roger in a quiet Welsh town. After a few days, she comes down with a stomach ailment and is put to bed. However, she is unable to get any rest as scratching noises from the attic keep her awake. When the cook's son Gwyn investigates, he discovers no mice, but finds a dinner set with a fanciful floral design. Bored with bed-rest, Alison begins tracing the pattern on the plates and realizes that, arranged a certain way, it reveals an owl. Then, the plates she has traced lose their design - the traced owls disappear. Next, a picture, that was plastered over, is uncovered in the billiards room. Add to this the old handy-man's cryptic mutterings about Welsh legends and things begin to get creepy. Unfortunately, this is the point where the plot gets a little muddled, and some important points seem to be missing or not well-explained, making the story difficult to follow.

Without this confusion, The Owl Service would be an exciting read. Garner jumps right into the story and the action never stops until the final page. Unfortunately, with no real exposition, character backgrounds need to be filled in along the way and some just get lost while others seem to have no bearing on the story. For example, the fact that Roger's mother walked out on him and his dad is finally mentioned about half-way through the story, but never comes up again and does not seem to contribute to any plot or character development. Another thing that will make the story confusing for many North American readers is the use of both British and Welsh slang. While many children's fantasy lovers have become familiar with British slang due to the popularity of Harry Potter, the language in this story is from the 1960s and British slang as with American slang has changed a lot since then.

Alan Garner's The Owl Service won many well-deserved awards in its time, but I fear that it will disappoint today's children's fantasy fans.

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