Puppet Master by Joanne Owen

Puppet Master

“Marionettes are there for the manipulating, my malevolent monkeys. They are there to serve, to be sent out into the world to spread the message of he who manipulates them.”

It was the cover that first drew me to Puppet Master. Not just a striking theatrical image, but an image cleverly treated to look aged. As is every page, every element of this book.

First there is a contents page set out to look like a theatre programme. And then a cast list presented as a list of players.

And then the story begins. Picture the scene:

It is Wednesday 18th January 1898. A young girl, Milena, is standing in Prague’s Old Town Square, looking up at the city’s famed astronomical clock and hoping that her friend will come soon so that they can both go home. It is cold, the light is fading and the streets are empty.

The scene is beautifully painted and it is very easy to see and feel for Milena as she waits.

And then a figure appears. A flamboyantly dressed figure. A puppet master who is about to put on his travelling show, and is most inistent that Milena attends the opening night.

Why? Does he know that the theatre he is reopening once belonged to Milena’s father? That he died in an accident there, and that her mother went missing shortly after?

What is going on in the theatre? Why are the marionettes so lifelike? Who are Zdenko and Zdenka, the puppet master’s malevolent apprentices? Will Milena be reunited with her mother?

There are many questions to be answered as Milena’s story unfolds, and the answers are quite extraordinary.

And wrapped up with that story is are stories of her ancestress that Milena’s grandmother is telling her. Stories of Libuse, the princess who founded Prague. Stories that suggest that it now falls to Milena to save the city.

Such wonderful ingredients, and they combine to make a wonderful gothic tale, firmly rooted in the traditional tales and puppet shows of eastern Europe.

And the tale is wonderfully enhanced by the illustrations that pepper its pages. Not pictures of the characters or of the action – the writing is more than good enough to paint those pictures in your head – but pictures you can read – of letters, notes, pages of books.. They turn this book into a quite beautiful artefact.

Puppet Master is a striking debut novel – written for children, but wonderfully readable for adults!

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