The curator by Owen King

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This book has been described by some reviewers as Dickensian, and it is a world of various eccentric characters, so many at times, that it is hard to keep track of them. For me it was the character of the charming independent minded Dora that kept me engaged, allowing me to let the rest just flow. Scenes and bits of stories are interleaved with Dora’s story, like small vignettes with strange seemingly unrelated people; but going with the flow, eventually all the little pieces come together to create the bigger picture. It’s a bit like looking through the apparatus in the National Museum of the Worker that Dora curates, to see the strange fragments and scenarios down the spyglass and not knowing what it all means.

Dora, a maid who takes charge of her life, and captures the heart of her ‘Lieutenant’, a university rebel in the revolution that is taking over the city, becomes the curator of the neglected Museum of the Worker, a safe place to stay at least, though what she really wanted was to work at the Society for Psykical Research, the place that she thinks is linked to the death of her brother Ambrose, a mystery she wants to solve.

There are many dark and horrible characters in this story: the brutish Sergeant van Goor, and the sadistic Captain Anthony, are just a couple, and there are scenes of gruesome torture and death. On the other hand, there is the naive Lieutenant, simple and foolish, and Dora with her droll but caring contemplation of him. And then there is also Ike, the smart, quick-witted boy of the streets, who takes two young orphans under his wing. These characters are very likeable and help to sustain the interest of the reader through the meanders of the story.

It is world of revolution, upheaval, chaos, and cats. The cats are numerous, worshipped by some, and despised by others. Perhaps it is the cats who see all and understand all. We can only follow the threads and try to work it out.  The curator is a fantastical story, completely unlike other works of fantasy, and will appeal to readers who are prepared to be baffled even until its enigmatic but romantic conclusion.

Themes: Fantasy, Revolution, Mystery, Museums, Society, Corruption, Cats, Humour.

Helen Eddy