The World House (Angry Robot)
I’m a little biased towards books that showcase adventures indoors. For most of my life, I’ve had wonderful recurring dreams of exploring vast buildings full of interesting things. So The World House is the kind of book that’s right up my alley. But this house is scarier and more dangerous than my worst nightmares.
All over the world, in varying time periods, people pick up a strange little box and find themselves transported to an odd and frightening place. Taxidermied animals come to life to attack the unwary, hallways extend into infinity, and dark spaces contain faceless phantoms. The house seems to contain everything you can imagine, except for one thing—a way out.
At the top of the house is a locked room. In that room is a prisoner plotting his escape. If he gets out, he will destroy the world.
When I started this book, I was reading it with a specific idea in my head of what I thought the book would be like. Back in the 1990s I read a wonderful book by James Stoddard called The High House that took place entirely in a house that was the metaphor for the universe. I’ve never read anything like it before, and I admit that I was carrying that particular idea in my head when I started Adams’s book. As a result, it took me a while to appreciate this book for what it is.
This tale is quite different from The High House. The sense of danger is much more palpable, as the house often actively strikes out at the hapless people trapped in its walls. Most people who find the House will die, usually quickly and usually violently. The characters featured here are the survivors who band together to find a way home. It’s a little unfortunate that the story demands that they start as a few separate groups who eventually find their way to the same place, because the jumping back and forth from group to group confused me a few times.
The upside of this situation is that readers get to see more of the House than they otherwise might. Adams has imagined a plethora of weird and wacky rooms, as well as the things and individuals populating them. I especially liked the fully furnished caves that are scattered through the mountain range. (Yes, the house has its own indoor mountain range.) The best creations are the ones where the space is in opposition to what you think you should find. For example, the toy room has toys that come to life in a psychotic fashion, but you expect toys in that room. The furnished caves are not what you would expect in a windswept mountain range, and that kind of dichotomy worked really well.
The one thing that I wish this novel shared with The High House is more of a sense of wonder. The World House contains much to amaze and startle, but is short on the kinds of scenes that make you think “Wow, I’d love to see that in real life”. That sense of wonder works particularly well in an interior setting like a house, because houses are so mundane that turning that stereotype on its ear can have great results. In The World House, the library fits this bill, as does the mountain range and the ocean, but the rest is mostly the stuff of nightmares.
The characters are an interesting mix. Some of them aren’t quite as fleshed out as they could be, but the ones that are, are memorable. My favorite was Sophie, a little girl locked into her own mental world with its own rules and guidelines. Her way of viewing the world is intriguing, and I hope that we get to see more of her background in future books. Her chance-met companion, Alan, has depths that readers will discover as the novel progresses. The first character to be introduced, Miles, came off as less developed to me for some reason, even though readers do get some of his history. This might be because his story comes in flashbacks interspersed with descriptions of his first few moments in the House. Plus, he’s the first character we see entering the House, and so a lot of what readers get is his reactions to what the House throws at him. There’s less room for character development when you’re fighting for your life.
Aside from a couple of things that I would like to see strengthened, The World House is a solid novel, especially in the second half when the characters start moving through more of the House. Once I was able to let go of my own preconceptions, I found myself enjoying this book much more. I devoured the last third in one sitting and wanted more, but I and everyone else will have to wait for July when the sequel, Restoration, comes out.
I have to give it to Adams—he has an incredible imagination and isn’t afraid to let it roam into the dark places that scare us. His creativity takes readers on a journey that won’t soon be forgotten. The World House is high fantasy that calls to mind all the things that we’re afraid might be true.
Also by this author: Restoration
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on January 27, 2011.