Kit has just moved to Stoneygate with his family, to live with his ageing grandfather who is gradually succumbing to Alzheimer's Disease. Stoneygate is an insular place, scarred by its mining history - by the danger and death it has brought them. Where the coal mine used to be there is now a wilderness.
Here Kit meets Askew, a surly and threatening figure who masterminds the game called Death, a frightening ritual of hypnotism; and Kit makes friends with Allie, the clever school troublemaker. As Kit struggles to adjust to his new life and the gradual failing of his beloved grandfather, these two friendships pull him towards a terrifying resolution. Haunted by ghosts of the past, Kit must confront death and - ultimately - life.
A stunning novel from the author of the modern children's classic Skellig - winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. David Almond is also winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen award.
Revisiting many of the themes from Skellig, Almond offers another tantalizing blend of human drama, surrealism and allegory. He opens the novel with a triumphant scene, in which Kit Watson, the 13-year-old narrator, and his classmates, John Askew and Allie Keenan reemerge from "ancient darkness into a shining valley," as if to reassure readers throughout the course of the cryptic tale that the game of "Death," so central to the book, is indeed just a game. Nevertheless, he takes readers on a thrilling and spine-tingling ride. When Kit moves with his mother and father to the mining town of Stoneygate to keep company with his newly widowed grandfather, he feels drawn to John Askew who, like Kit, comes from a long line of coal miners. Askew presses Kit to take part in a game of "Death," for which the participants spin a knife to determine whose turn it is to "die." The chosen one then remains alone in the darkness of Askew's den, to join spirits with boys killed in a coal mine accident in 1821. Some regular players consider the game to be make-believe, but Kit senses something far more profound and dangerous, and the connection he forges with the ancient past also circuitously seals a deeper bond with Askew. Allie acts as a bridge between the two worlds, much as Mina was for Michael in Skellig. The ability that Askew, Kit and his grandpa possess to pass between two seductive worlds, here and beyond, in many ways expands on the landscape Almond created in Skellig. The intricacy and complexity of the book's darker themes make it a more challenging read than his previous novel for children, but the structure is as awe-inspiring as the ancient mining tunnels that run beneath Stoneygate. Ages 12-up.