And Then I Read: THE KING IN THE WINDOW by Adam Gopnik

KingWindowCover illustration by Thomas Woodruff, jacket design by Christine Kettner.

Oliver Parker is 12, and living in Paris with his American parents, his father is on assignment there for his job. Sounds romantic, but Oliver is in a very tough French school struggling to keep up, and at home he’s babied by his parents, who still treat him like he’s five. All that changes one January night when Oliver is swept into a fantasy kingdom of Window Wraiths, who live in the windows of Paris, and are able to come forth in ghostly form at certain times. The Window Wraiths take Oliver by their secret ways to the palace of Versailles, and they turn out to be the spirits of former inhabitants and guests of that place who are in desperate need of a King to help them in their battle with another similar but evil group, of spirits who live in the mirrors of Paris. Before he realizes what he’s getting into, Oliver agrees to be their King, and is soon in all kinds of danger and trouble. Fortunately he finds some friends to help him: a cantankerous old lady, Mrs. Pearson, his American pal Charlie, and a mysterious but beautiful girl, Neige. Oliver’s adventures soon take him to many parts of Paris, the known and the unknown, as well as the dark world behind the mirrors where an evil overlord is plotting to take over our world and the entire universe.

The writing of the main characters in this book is quite good, especially in the beginning, as we get to know them. Paris itself is portrayed beautifully throughout. The fantasy elements are not handled as well, they don’t seem thoroughly planned. Just when Oliver and his friends seem in a hopeless situation, some new element is introduced to save the day. This gives the feeling that anything can happen, that there are no rules, and that makes it hard to suspend disbelief. When anything can happen, it’s hard to care or believe in the intended suspense of the plot. The villain is one-dimensional and never came to life for me, except near the end when he’s posing as a Silicon Valley genius undertaking a massive experiment in the Eiffel Tower. The plot is a roller-coaster ride where the riders never seem to get a good handle on which direction they’re going until the very end. And the basic idea of the Window Wraiths and Mirror Spirits isn’t portrayed in a logical way that I could accept, it seemed rather a stretch, and kept pulling me out of the story.

I can’t say I’m sorry I read this book, I liked some things about it, but I can only mildly recommend it. I’m sure a young reader would be less critical than I, and there are plenty of imaginative ideas and action-film dramatics. The book is published by Miramax Books, perhaps it was bought for screen-adaptation potential, but that’s just a guess.

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