Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell
Great Plains Teen Fiction, £11.66.
Reviewed by Steve Dean.
It’s 1927, and a young boy called Rembrandt is growing up on a poor farm with his parents and Aunts and Uncles. He’s the only child in the family, but his two aunts desperately want children of their own. Seemingly unable to conceive, the eponymous villain arrives in the form of a pedlar offering his special potion. A deal is struck and both women drink from the black bottle, and this is where it all goes wrong. Part of the deal involves Rembrandt and his family moving every twelve days. If they stay in one place any longer bad things start to happen.
Although what follows is fairly well written, the pace is low-key and stays that way throughout. The characters aren’t too badly drawn, although they don’t really get a chance to grow as the story continues. The mood of the story is consistently down-beat, dark and depressing. The author does capture the flavour of the location and era though, the setting is very atmospheric and suitably moody.
The book is obviously aimed at teenagers, but unless they were a mature 16+ I wouldn’t give this book to a youngster. It’s relentlessly dark, covers some fairly adult topics, and is generally not a story you’d read for pleasure. Despite the fact it seems to have won an award for children’s writing, I personally would prefer younger kids to read something more upbeat, not put them off reading for life.
For me, the thing that let this book down the most was the ending. It was poorly done, tacked on almost, as if the author ran out of time and just piled on a major coincidence to finish it off.
So, overall, not bad, but not what I would class as YA.