Elsewhere is a mysterious world inside framed paintings in the haunted house where Olive Dunwoody and her wonky parents live. Olive is nearly twelve and pretty much on her own. Her mathematician mother and father teach in the university and are absentminded even when they are present at home. Olive is missing the math gene but she makes up for it with extreme right-braininess—she lives in a powerful imaginary world that is, unfortunately, not imaginary.
The house is as alive as those paintings. The three gigantic and ornery cats who came with the house are not actually cats—by any common definition, in any case. They speak English, for one thing. And they boss Olive around like crazy for another. She puts up with this because they have the ability to move in and out of the living pictures—into and back from Elsewhere dragging Olive along—and Olive is desperate to know more about that world.
Morton is a frail, apparently albino boy who was trapped in a painting decades ago by an evil witch and has gradually faded into paint. He isn’t precisely alive, in a conventional way, but he is lonely and Olive is the only kid he ever sees. She would like to figure out a way to return him to the world but even her imagination can’t solve that one. And there is the little matter of the deadly nature of a few inhabitants of Elsewhere. Olive was close to killed by one or two of them in her last adventure.
Rutherford Dewey is an irritating boy about Olive’s age who comes to live with his grandmother next door and invades Olive’s backyard and her half-haunted existence. He seems to be able to read her mind, whenever there is something she wants to hide from him. Mrs. Niven lives on the other side. She has the neatest yard on the block but there is something off about her, especially in bright sunlight. The McMartins no longer live in Olive’s house. They were inherently evil and met unhappy ends, abetted by Olive whom they nearly succeeded in murdering.
The cats, Horatio, Harold and Leopold, grow more eccentric by the day. Leopold guards a trapdoor in the dark basement 24-by-7. Harold is usually a pirate or a knight or a secret agent on a mission. Often this involves painting himself green or black so he can blend in with his environment. Horatio hangs around Olive but he is very grumpy and seldom wants to take her inside a painting. When Rutherford asks Olive if the house has a grimoire, a witches’ spellbook, she begins to see a way to help Morton and to tap into the peculiar powers around her. But what happens when Olive looks for the grimoire is way outside her expectations and puts her and every living and a few non-living creatures in the neighborhood in mortal peril.
Spellbound is well-written and full of surprises. The dangers feel real and the characters—feline and otherwise–are engaging and believable. Olive’s parents are as clueless and unavailable as any obliging parents in a children’s book so she is free to pursue her questionable escapades at all hours. Jacqueline West’s series is entertaining enough for anyone who likes a good fantasy based on an original premise.
Vol. 2 Spellbound (The Books of Elsewhere) Jacqueline West | Dial Books 2011