The Lamplighter

North Star Editions/Flux. May 2024. 304p. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781635830989.
Gr 7 Up–Middle schoolers can be moody and a little bit scary—so is this novel: what a perfect pair! This 19th-century Gothic-light tale of terror leans heavily on spooky predecessors, mixing the New England setting of Edgar Allan Poe with the dark, emotional turmoil of the Brontë sisters. Protagonist Temperance works as the lamplighter in Warbler, a seaside town beset by deepest fog each night. Despite being a woman, she inherited her job after her father’s tragic death, leaving her as the sole provider for her younger sister and a mother near-comatose with grief. The plot thickens when the town’s mysterious but talented figurehead carver, Gideon, entwines himself into Temperance’s family life. She is determined to discover the secrets he’s hiding. And thus begins a foreboding plot that drips with the shadow of violence. A girl goes missing the night two lamplights go out, and like the fog that pervades Warbler, something threatening lies unseen. Debut author Bell’s writing borders on verbose, flowery language creating intense inner conflicts. Temperance’s stubbornness and self-torture permeate each story beat. Her actions take readers down roads of long discovery followed by moments of deep dread, visceral and all-encompassing.
VERDICT A gloomy horror novel, perfect for middle schoolers too old for “Goosebumps,” but not yet ready for more terrifying fare.

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