Eldritch Manor, by Kim Thompson (Dundurn, Oct. 1, 2012, middle grade) is a new Canadian addition to the sub-genre of fantasy in which a child encounters mythical creatures living amoung us. The child in question is Willa, an ordinary 12 year old girl whose parents have asked her to spend her summer gainfully employed. Willa is not, understandably, thrilled by the idea, but her first effort at work (trying to sell newspaper subscriptions) leads her to the door of the mysterious Eldritch Manor.
Miss Trang, the sinister chatelaine of this overgrown old home for the elderly decides to trust Willa enough to offer her a job as a house keeper...and slowly Willa begins to realize that five residents are not your ordinary oldsters. Actually, it's not that slow--accidentally opening the door and finding a mermaid in the bathtub is rather sudden and obvious! So Willa perforce is introduced to the residents in their true forms--as well as Belle, the mermaid, there's the fairy, the centaur, the sphinx-like gentleman who can morph into human/lion form, and the cat cook. All living reclusive lives, retired from magic....
But magic is on its way to Eldritch Manor. A dangerous force threatens its fragile peace--one that can rip the fabric of time itself. Miss Trang sets off to find help, leaving Willa in charge...but a 12 year old girl and some rather creaky magical beings are not an obvious match for the powerful supernatural agencies. And what to do with the dinosaur who's appeared in the back yard?
It's entertaining and crisply written, and shorter than many similar tomes, weighing in at a mere 160 pages (making it good for readers off-put by the standard 400 or so). Willa is a not unsympathetic heroine, and (something I appreciate) she does not develop extraordinary powers or magic of her own!
It was never quite clear to me exactly why the sinister forces (nicely creepy) were attacking Eldrich Manor, but I was prepared to take it as given. My only real reservation in terms of recommending this one to kids is that the mythical creatures are not tremendously appealing--they are somewhat cantankerous, and not exactly full to the brim with wonder and enchantment. So those looking to be delighted by the sparkly magic of it all (ala Fablehaven) might be disappointed.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils consideration