For me, this story didn't really start for me until almost 40%. This is one of those books that you have to keep reading to get the whole thing. Once the pieces fall in place, it is captivating and rich in literature. There were a couple of moments that I wanted to quit. I couldnt figure out where the story was taking me. It was in so many places, with so many people, it got hard to keep up. I never read a book so slowly, and reread lines so many times in my life. I was absorbing it all. Every word. As I finish the book, I am so happy I stuck with it. You really have no idea what a literal genius someone is till the end. You finish that last page and say holy crap! Daniel is on a mission throughout this story. All the while what he is looking for is right before his eyes. You don't see it either though, that is what's so incredible. I definitely had so many emotions once this book came together. My heart was in turmoil. for Daniel and for Julian. A pretty epic read, have to admit. I definitely want more from this author.
On a winter excursion the Danas seek shelter in a cave and happen across Josie Sykes, a girl with a hunched back reading a letter. Startled, the girl lets the wind take the letter and a piece of green paper with it - revealed to be a $1000 bill! A fox takes the paper and vanishes.
The Danas do their best to help the distraught Josie find the bill and the letter to no avail. The letter had the only information Josie possessed on her only living family, an uncle. The girls offer to help Josie find a place to stay at Starhurst while she searches for her money and letter and they listen to her tale of woe. Josie has lived most of her life at a home for "crippled children", but was lately accused of theft and ran away because she was afraid they wouldn't believe her explanation for the $1000 bill. She wants to find her uncle, but also a way to live independently.
The language around disabled people has changed a great deal in 85 years, Josie is referred to as crippled mostly without malice, it was the appropriate word at the time. The Danas also endeavor to boost Josie up by not allowing her to define herself by her disability or accept the ridiculous judgements she receives from bullies like Lettie Briggs. There's nothing wrong with that side of Josie character. However, when the owner of the fox farm in broad daylight mistakes the teenage girl for a wild animal because of her hunched back and almost shoots her, we begin to have some difficulty.
Speaking of difficulty, the plot brings the Danas to their cousin's farm for the Christmas holiday, and, coincidentally, a neighbor has found Josie's letter with the money still inside of it! The issue comes when that neighbor's employer, an artist with a tower studio, has a black housekeeper called Mammy Cleo. Mammy Cleo speaks in dialect, but is shown to be knowledgeable of her employer's work and gives the Dana girls a guided tour of the studio, pointing out paintings of interest. A positive stereotype is still a stereotype, however. McFarlane - or the Stratemeyer Syndicate as they often made very specific instructions in their plot outlines - makes matters worse when we get to superstition and the language used to describe Cleo and other black people who come into the story. The reader is meant to sympathize with the rational Danas as they confront the ignorance and fear displayed by black people confronting Josie's "monstrous" silhouette or the sight of her on horseback. What the hell, McFarlane. What the fuck.
The real plot involves art theft and the Danas reuniting Josie with her uncle after Josie runs away. After the worse elements of the book are through, there is some comfort to discover that Josie gets herself a job and makes a career of it on her own, without the help of the Danas.
Context is important when reading books from a different era. Language evolves and its important for writers to attempt to tackle difficult subjects, even if they don't succeed. The problems of 'In the Shadow of the Tower' go beyond outmoded language and "cultureal expectations", however. Despite the efforts of the book to provide readers with a mostly positive depiction of a disabled person and the prejudice they face every day, it is undermined by prejudice of a different kind.
Next: 'A Three-Cornered Mystery'
Previous: 'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage'
Oh no. I enjoyed the first two - reviews to come, naturally - but the plot here involves a black community that is superstitious to the point of endangering themselves and the wealthy white people they work for. Leslie McFarlane also doesn't seem to be able to write about black people without describing their "rolling eyes" and "great, shiny faces". This was written at about the same time as 'The Mark on the Door'. McFarlane (perhaps at the Stratemeyer Syndicate's behest as their plot outlines were sometimes incredibly detailed and weirdly specific) wrote novels with a distinctly racist vibe in this period.
This is off to a spectacularly gothic start. Who among us wouldn't have liked to have been taken, at the age of ten, to a secret library in a ruined castle, especially when it's called 'The Cemetry Of Forgotten Books' and you're not allowed to tell anyone about it?
Unfortunately, the narrator of the audiobook, Daniell Philpott, seemed determined to such the life out of the book. He was slow, deaf to the rhythm of the prose and altogether too English for this book. I had wondered why a book of 500 pages was going to take 17 hours and 33 minutes to listen to - that's 90 minutes more that I expected and my guess is that much of it is accounted for by the narrator's pace and inappropriate hesitations.
So, I've claimed my refund for the audiobook and then got a version from Kindle for £0.99 (how does the author or the publisher make any money from that?)