Gabriel's Clock, by Hilton Pashley, is a middle grade fantasy published in the UK back in 2013; all the reviews on Amazon UK are five stars, and when it was published here in the states this October, it got good reviews as well. And indeed, there were many parts that were lovely and magical, and I can imagine many young reader being entranced. But two things are keeping me from a wholehearted recommendation--a nasty bit of torture, and the absence of God (not something that usual bothers me in middle grade fantasy (because if it did, I wouldn't have much middle grade fantasy to read), but in this particular case I was troubled).
Jonathan is not an ordinary boy--he is half angel, half demon. His grandfather is the Archangel Gabriel, who fell from heaven years ago (for reasons), imbuing one small English village with his heavenly magic and making it a sanctuary for those of goodwill in need of refuge. And Jonathan is badly in need of refugee--as the only half angel/half demon in existence, he will have incredible power...and the demon Belial is determined to find him and seize that power for himself. Jonathan's parents kept him safe and hidden for years, but as the story starts, agents of darkness destroy his home, and capture his father.
So his mother sends him, still ignorant of his true nature, to the village of his grandfather Gabriel.
All the residents of Hobbes End know Gabriel is an angel and that he has made their village a magical place. Along with Jonathan, it's a delight to meet the people and beings that inhabit it--the gargoyles, the talking cat, the young daughter of a werewolf, Cay, who becomes Jonathan's friend. This part of the story I loved unreservedly (great gargoyles always delight me, as do smart-aleck cats).
But the agents of Belial have found a way to by-pass the safeguards of the village....and they come with their horrible violence to seize Jonathan, causing his powers to abruptly awaken. And though the villagers (gargoyles and all) fight fiercely, Gabriel is kidnapped, and tortured, and Cay too is held hostage. Belial demands that Jonathan surrender himself, and bring with him the back-door key to heaven that his grandfather made-the clock of the title. Or else.
And there is exciting action and action-filled excitement, and it is very easy to see the fantasy-loving young reader enjoying things very much.
But with all this war in heaven, and the archangels being real characters, and Lucifer being real, I just couldn't help wonder -- where was God? It just didn't make sense to me, not because I am a stickler for doctrine, but because the internal logic of it felt off; if you are going to have the Archangels, surely God has to be there somewhere....If there'd been just a smidge of an explanation about divine non-interference or some such, it would have felt more satisfactory.
I also do not like graphic torture. Gabriel's wings are ripped from him, and his eyes are gouged out and sent to the vicar with whom Jonathan is living. And though this happens off-stage, we see the bloody bandage and the fallen feathers, and when the box arrives, though the reader is not told what it holds, it's clear. Rather strong stuff, and though there's not much of it, it would make me hesitate to offer this one to a sensitive younger reader.
But the village of Hobbes End is lovely, and I adored its inhabitants (there's a rather English quirkiness to the whole ensemble I appreciated), Jonathan is a character to cheer for, and the story is brisk and engrossing. So I guess my short answer is recommended, with personal reservations.
Note: that is a dragon on the cover, and it is a very cool dragon who ends up playing cricket with the villagers, but she doesn't get quite enough page time (coming in at the end as she does) to make this a dragon fantasy.
Note 2: I appreciate that little or no meddling seems to have occurred with the Englishness of the original; it's nice to read an English book that really does feel English! And moving further down that line of thought--at one point the talking cat is only just stopped in time while reciting a rude limerick about "a young man from Venus, who had an unusual...." I don't think you'd be able to get away with this in a book first published in the States, prudes that we are...
Disclaimer: review copy sent by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for Cybils Award consideration.