Reviews for Game of Sunken Places
Booklist Monthly Selections - # 2 April 2004
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 5-8. When Brian and Gregory visit the isolated, gas-lit mansion of Gregory's peculiar uncle Max, their host burns their luggage and outfits them in an elaborate nineteenth-century wardrobe. They have unknowingly become players in an enigmatic game. Play begins in earnest when they discover the Game of Sunken Places, an enchanted board game that draws them into a real-life quest. Soon they are facing ax-wielding trolls, fleeing bloodthirsty ogres, and becoming increasingly aware that Uncle Max's cavalier attitude toward their safety is more than just garden-variety eccentricity. Intensifying the sinister atmosphere is an unsettling warning: "The grown-ups are involved in unforgivable things, and making you their pawns." Anderson, the author of the YA novel Feed (2002), proves himself a natural in this genre, tightening the screws of suspense one twist at a time, and occasionally piercing the sinister atmosphere with a cheeky ray of comedy. Adding emotional heft is his authentic portrait of best friends, "two lobes of the same brain." Deliciously scary, often funny, and crowned by a pair of deeply satisfying surprises, this tour de force leaves one marveling at Anderson's ability to slip between genres as fluidly as his middle-grade heroes straddle worlds. ((Reviewed April 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2005 Spring
Gregory and Brian find themselves unwilling participants in a role-playing game, itself a mask for a larger struggle between two supernatural peoples. The writing is lively and often irreverent, and while individual scenes are often dramatically effective, the plot feels too improvised and thus less than suspenseful. Sleator's [cf2]Interstellar Pig[cf1] is a much more satisfying tale of high-stakes gaming. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 June #2
When wise-cracking Gregory and brainy Brian go to Vermont to visit Gregory's "strange . . . [p]robably insane" Uncle Max, they "couldn't know what an adventure it would be." Once at Grendle Manor and properly clad in knickerbockers, the two boys find a mildewed game board--the eponymous Game of Sunken Places--that mirrors the local landscape and takes on a real and potentially lethal life of its own. A sinister stranger, a genial troll, a fussy, very non-human game coordinator, and numerous monsters variously aid and block their progress through the game, which, it seems, is central to a cosmic contest between two spirit races. Sound confusing? It is, and purposely so. Gregory and Brian bumble and puzzle their way along with the reader, gradually discovering the many overlaid constructs and realities that make up the game. As with so many games, the fun of the novel is not in the ending but in the getting there, and readers willing to suspend every ounce of disbelief will be rewarded by this smart, consciously complex offering that never panders to its middle-grade audience. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 July #2
Anderson serves up a fantasy thriller that neatly combines the techno-savvy of his Feed, the horror themes of Thirsty and the sharp humor of Burger Wuss. Thirteen-year-olds Gregory Buchanan and Brian Thatz have accepted an invitation to stay with Gregory's Uncle Max in Vermont over their school's two-week October break. Gregory does not know Max well (he is actually the adoptive father of Max's now-adult cousin, Prudence) but warns Brian that he's "probably insane. He lives in kind of a different world from the rest of us. You know? The kind of world where electricity is a lot of invisible spiders." True to horror-story convention, locals urge the boys to turn back as they approach his estate. Max is indeed ominous, and their reception bizarre (why do the servants incinerate the boys' clothing?). Right away, the boys find a board game (from which the novel takes its title) that seems to depict Max's estate-but soon new places begin appearing on the board. Gregory and Max learn they are participants in a high-stakes Game run by the so-called Speculant; with characters like an axe-wielding troll and an infuriated elf, portentous place names (the Ceremonial Mound, the Hill of Shadow) hard-to-discover rules and riddles, the Game proceeds like an elaborate computer fantasy adventure. Anderson keeps the tension high even as he cuts it with colorful prose and an insightful motif involving the boys' friendship. Dexterously juggling a seemingly impossible profusion of elements, the author builds to a climactic series of surprises that, exploding like fireworks, will almost certainly dazzle readers. Ages 9-12. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 October #3
In a starred review, PW wrote, "Dexterously juggling a seemingly impossible profusion of elements, the author builds to a climactic series of surprises that, exploding like fireworks, will almost certainly dazzle readers." Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 September
Gr 5-9-Thirteen-year-olds Brian Thatz and Gregory Buchanan accept a cryptic invitation to visit Gregory's weird Uncle Max and cousin Prudence in Vermont. Uncle Max, a Victorian-era throwback, greets them in a horse-drawn carriage and dispatches them to his creepy old manor house. Once there, he burns the boys' luggage and everything in it, forcing them into the heavy tweed knickerbockers and starched shirt collars he prefers. Then an all-consuming game begins, though the hapless boys are not informed of it. It subjects them to every fiend Anderson can imagine, from bridge trolls and ogres to nefarious man-monsters in billowing cloaks. The boys are confused, and readers are likely to be as well. Anderson's prose is deliberately disorienting and chaotic, and his characters are quick-witted and engaging. This is an action-packed adventure, but the convoluted story line, abrupt scene changes, and unstable landscape will not be everyone's cup of tea.-Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2004 June
Joan Aiken meets Douglas Adams in this well-done, humorous fantasy from the talented author of Burger Wuss (Candlewick, 1999/VOYA December 1999) and Feed (2002/VOYA December 2002). Gregory Buchanan, a headlong sort of boy much given to spouting nonsense, gets an invitation to spend some time in Vermont with his eccentric uncle, Max, and his cousin, Prudence. He asks his decidedly more cautious friend, Brian, to come with him. Uncle Max lives in a Victorian mansion that readers soon discover is shunned by the locals, and he both dresses and requires the boys to dress in Victorian-era costume. Soon Gregory and Brian find themselves hip deep in a mysterious, scary, and ancient game played by supernatural opponents. They spend several days tramping through the wilds of rural Vermont, vanquishing-and sometimes befriending-monsters, discovering secret underground cities, and generally fleeing for their lives. What makes this novel special is Anderson's skill at wordplay. Gregory is given to all sorts of bizarre and off-kilter statements, for example, as when he claims that his uncle "lives in kind of a different world from the rest of us. You know? The kind of world where electricity is a lot of invisible spiders. The kind of world where there's organ music that gets louder when he eats refined sugar." Although somewhat arbitrary and picaresque in its structure, the novel never ceases to entertain, and the ending is genuinely unexpected. The book should strongly appeal to any teen interested in an original fantasy adventure.-Michael Levy 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2004 Voya Reviews.