An excellent, darkly enchanting fantasy well worth reading.
Note: An advance review copy was provided to Squeaky Clean Reviews. SCR is not in any way obliged to give a favorable review, only an honest one.
When young Leo is sent for the summer to the remote Hill House, he resigns himself to boring days spent with his intolerable cousin Foxbrush. But his life takes a turn when he hears fearful whispers of a monster that prowls the mountain, and he determines to find and kill it. Instead of meeting a monster, however, he meets a strange, veiled little girl named Rose Red. Together they play at hunting the unknown monster down Faerie Paths, but the creature they finally unleash is all too real and deadly.
"Veiled Rose" approaches human nature as it really is: flawed. Rose Red is the most selfless character, serving others even when it brings her pain, but she struggles with anger and fear. Leo is torn between his duty and his desires, and in the midst of his hunting the monster he feels himself to be a coward.
The people of Hill House and the surrounding region fear and hate Rose Red. The lady Daylily and her father are manipulative, as is Leo's mother. In the midst of this, however, right and wrong, good and evil, are made clear.
This book is in part an allegory, although not in as obvious a style as, say, "The Pilgrim's Progress." One of the evil characters is Death. Rose Red is torn between her dark Dream and her Imaginary Friend, hating both because she understands neither. One character who is mostly in the background is a Christ-like figure. The book deals heavily with dreams and Faerie Paths that can lead either to good or evil places. One character has the ability to shape-shift, another minor character is a Faerie. At one point Leo visits an oracle at the prompting of his (evil) Dream, the sister of Death.
The theme of the story is rather dark, dealing heavily with dreams and Death, but there is relatively little violence. Leo is determined to defeat the monster during his summer at Hill House (carrying as his weapon the fearsome beanpole Bloodbiter's Wrath). The Dragon destroys a land and poisons the people. A jester is beaten and at one point Leo also gets pummeled. A wolf's wounds are described in detail. One character is destroyed through the Dragon's power. Rose is chased by evil creatures and at another point is threatened by several dragons.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Leo falls in love and there are some arranged alliances, but nothing untoward.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
"Dragon-eaten," "dragon-taken," and other "dragon" curses are used, primarily by Leo, but sometimes by others as well. "Silent Lady" and "Iubdan's beard" are also exclamations.
I don't frequently read books by contemporary writers, and even less frequently do I enjoy them, but "Veiled Rose" took me completely and pleasantly by surprise with everything about it. The plot has the atmosphere of a fairytale, but with a wonderful burst of originality; the characters are extraordinarily well-written and lovable, though faulty; and the writing itself fantastic. The book is heavily suspenseful and at times creepy, so it is not recommended for late night reading, but Stengl also adds a dash of wry humor at times to lighten a scene. It is thoroughly a good book.