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The Game of Sunken Places

Review

The Game of Sunken Places

"The woods were silent, other than the screaming." Right from this first sentence of THE GAME OF SUNKEN PLACES, readers get a good idea of the creepy fun they're in for in M. T. Anderson's masterful fantasy novel. In addition to being genuinely scary, it also manages to be wickedly clever and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time.

If you just look at the book's jacket, you'd think THE GAME OF SUNKEN PLACES was one of those old-time adventure novels. And, in many ways, you'd be right. The story does feel very old-fashioned, even though it's set in the present day. Part of the book's nostalgic feel comes from the plot. For one thing, there's the eccentric (borderline insane) uncle living in a ramshackle mansion in the woods of Vermont. Gregory and his best friend, Brian, travel by train to stay with Gregory's uncle during their autumn school vacation.

Uncle Max meets them with a horse and carriage, brings them to the isolated mansion, and takes away all their modern-day possessions, leaving them with nothing to wear but old-fashioned nightgowns and knickerbockers. They find themselves in an attic nursery, filled with toys from the past, including the mysterious "Game of Sunken Places" board game.

As soon as Brian and Gregory turn over the hourglass timer that starts the game, they get the feeling that this is no simple game of Parcheesi. Instead, the game board, which represents the dark woods outside the mansion, is filled with sinister characters like the ogre Snarth, the mysterious opponent Jack Stimple, and the bitter elf Wee Sniggleping, who spends all his time convincing Brian and Gregory that he's not like one of those cheerful Keebler Elves. The boys meet these real-life characters as they navigate the game board, answering riddles and solving puzzles along the way, and the plot has as many twists and turns as the game board itself does.

The action-packed plot is reason enough to pick up THE GAME OF SUNKEN PLACES; what sets this novel apart, though, is the details. From Gregory's wisecracks --- many of which make no sense but are nonetheless hilarious --- to bizarre descriptions of Hummel figurines ("Little German children, wearing lederhosen, kissed while carpets of fungus crawled and devoured them"), the book is filled with quirky, sometimes creepy surprises that may have readers falling off the edge of their seats with laughter.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 1, 2010

The Game of Sunken Places
by M. T. Anderson

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2010
  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy
  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0545200083
  • ISBN-13: 9780545200080