I'm going to do my best not to include spoilers in my post, because this is a work best read without knowing exactly what's going to happen. If you'd like to view some of the book's artwork, you can check out the publisher's page here.
The library copy I read had no book jacket, but I included a cover image anyway.
This book is about a Princess who lives all alone in a marzipan castle with her teddy bear, Mr. Whiffle. She and Mr. Whiffle have many adventures together, and the Princess's life is fairly happy...except for the fear she has about the thing hiding under her bed. When the kitten the Princess received as a present goes missing, the Princess tries desperately to find him.
When I read that this looked like a children's picture book but definitely wasn't, I was intrigued and morbidly curious. What sorts of horrible things happened in this book? I wanted to know, but not enough to shell out $15-$20 dollars for it on Amazon, so I checked it out from the library. This is how I would recommend most people get this book. It's such a quick read that I would recommend buying it only if you decide you like it that much after having read it once already.
This book has three potential stopping points. The first stopping point is silly and disgustingly sweet. The second stopping point is horrific, particularly if you have a good imagination. Nothing is shown, but it's easy to guess what has happened to the Princess's kitten. If you go past that stopping point, you learn that that guess is, in fact wrong. The final ending is the true ending, the ending that makes sense when combined with the chilling little details strewn throughout the book.
Having read a review of this book, I knew to read carefully. I highly recommend reading this book slowly and taking a good look at each page before moving on. Nearly every page has hints of what the true ending will be. The results of the Princess's battle against the Black Duke (a toy stuffed lion) can be found on several pages. Even though I kept an eye out for such things, there were still a few details that didn't strike me as noteworthy or chilling until after I had finished the book and reread it. Some things are particularly subtle, but make sense once you know how it all ends.
If you don't mind creepy stories and horrible things happening to animals, I highly recommend reading this book at least a couple times. Taylor's artwork is both disgustingly sweet (the Princess looks like she could be a Disney character) and subtly disturbing. The text is simple and brief, but it, too, contains the occasional disturbing note. Although readers could choose to stop before the final ending, I doubt that anyone who starts this book would not read the whole thing, even knowing that there are horrible things to come. The first ending, while the happiest, doesn't make sense when combined with the slightly "off" tone of the book, and the second ending, while encouraging readers to fear that something awful has happened, doesn't actually show anything and so compels readers to continue out of morbid curiosity.
The timing of the sudden change in tone just before the book's true ending was perfect. In my opinion, Taylor doesn't cross the line into true unpleasantness either. Although the aftermath of the "reveal" is shown in all its goriness, Taylor thankfully doesn't show all the terrible details of what happened up to that point. This is possibly a bit of a spoiler, but I must say that I appreciated that none of the deaths were on-page.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Coraline (book) by Neil Gaiman - Okay, so I'm cheating a bit by drawing on the publisher's description for my read-alikes list, but I do think it's a valid read-alike suggestion. Those who'd like something creepy but, unlike Rothfuss's book, intended for children (ages 9-12, according to Amazon) might want to try this. I don't remember Coraline having any violence or harming of cute animals, but it is definitely creepy and disturbing. For older readers, I'd also suggest a lot of other works by Gaiman as potential read-likes - take a look at Gaiman's Violent Cases or The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch.
- 9 (CGI animated movie) - For some strange reason, there were parents who took their small children to see this movie. Yes, it's an animated movie and has dolls and the occasional toy (or pieces of some toys) but this movie is definitely not intended for children. Those who'd like something else with a sheen of creepiness might want to try this. I've written a post about it.
- Higurashi: When They Cry (manga) by Ryukishi07, art by Karin Suzuragi; When They Cry: Higurashi (animated TV series) - I've only read one volume of the manga and seen a few episodes of the anime, but I know enough to say that, like with Rothfuss's book, you can't let your guard down when reading/watching this series. Normal, disgustingly sweet situations quickly become disturbing as horrible, gruesome secrets and details are revealed. I don't remember the anime episodes I saw having too much on-screen violence, but the episodes made such excellent use of sound effects, viewer imagination, and general gore that this is still not a series I would recommend to the faint of heart. Which is part of the reason why I still haven't been able to bring myself to finish it, although I've owned it for a while. I've also heard excellent things about the later volumes of the manga. If you'd like more details, I've written a post about the first volume of the manga.
- The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories (book) by Tim Burton - "Book" isn't quite the right word, I think, but neither is "picture book" or "graphic novel." Those who'd like another dark, quick read might want to try this.