All eyes were upon the Nightshade brothers. The crowd's faced turned from joyful to bewildered; the rowdy noise turned to deafening silence, then shifted to a low drone of whispers.Vincent and Victor Nightshade have spent most of their lives trying to blend in, just trying to survive. But once upon a time they had a family and a father who was loved by everyone in their community. When they're unexpectedly saved from a dreary and dangerous life in the Combs, they must carry the mantle of their father and save the rats still left in the Combs. Save them and bring them to Nightshade City.
The boys heard one rat say, "I saw them in the Combs. I swore they were ghosts!" Others said "Julius lives" or "Nightshade has returned!" The brothers were terrified and exhilarated. Who was their father?
I LOVED The Rats of NIMH, both book and movie, when I was a kid. When Nightshade City came for me in the mail, I was half really excited about reading a new novel about a secret civilization of intelligent rats and half really really worried that it could never live up to my memory of Mrs. Frisby and her children. Well, I was right on both counts. The secret civilization of intelligent rats is there and, in the same spirit of O'Brien's classic, they are very human little rodents and the descriptions and characterizations of them are simply magic. For example:
Lamenting his large dinner, Lithgo leaned against the wall for support as sweat trickled down his thick russet brow and steam wafted from his now-filthy coat. The two young lieutenants stood without a sound, waiting for the major's orders. All that could be heard in the dusky corridor was Lithgo's weighty breathing.Can't you see that scene? You know what kind of major Lithgo is, the overweight, past his prime, spent kind. He's also really evil, but that's not the point of this paragraph. Wagner manages to describe the rats, especially when we first meet them, in a way that reminds you that they're rats but also reminds you that they're "people."
But this is not a novel about a sweet widow and her helpless children or even a society of rats who are fleeing humans. This is a novel about a just civilization of rats that was overthrown in a now legendary Bloody Coup. The bad guys are other rats, and they include a very large albino rat, escaped from some kind of testing facility, who delights in torturing and scaring those over whom he rules. This monster, Billycan, leads an army of orphaned male rats, teaching them to be killing machines and to police their former friends and neighbors before they even reach adulthood.
There are parts of this book that are definitely not for the faint of heart. Teenagers worry that their younger siblings are being tortured on their behalf; powerful leaders try to seduce young and beautiful girls; people (rats) die. Through all of that, Nightshade City and its early inhabitants never lose their resolve that things will turn out alright. Because of them, their normalcy and their senses of humor, the story never gets too scary or harsh. It's just important. What Vincent, Victor and the rest of the rats of Nightshade City are doing is of utmost importance and people will suffer greatly if they don't accomplish what they've set out to do. In this way, and in the way that violence and evil and other scary stuff is used, I think it is along the lines of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. What the characters are doing feels epic and like it will change everything. Maybe it will.
This definitely one of my favorite books read this year, which is something I almost never say. I just LOVED this!
Nightshade City was released earlier this month and is available for purchase!
Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher