When Brian and Gregory receive an invitation to stay at a distant relative's strange mansion...well, they know should know better than to go. Trips to distant relatives' strange mansions rarely go well. And this mansion is even stranger than most. Uncle Max doesn't really know what century he's in. The butler boils socks. And the attic houses the Game of Sunken Places.
Is the Game of Sunken Places an ordinary board game? Hardly! The Game of Sunken Places looks like a board game. And most of the time it acts like a board game. But from the moment Brian and Gregory start playing, they are caught up in an adventure that goes far beyond the board. Soon the boys are dealing with attitudinal trolls, warring kingdoms, and some very starchy britches.
Luckily, Brian and Gregory have wit, deadpan observation, and a keen sense of adventure on their side.
The first thing that drew me into this book was the premise. It sounded a bit like Jumanji what with the board game adventure and all. It turned out quite similar to that, but much darker. I was impressed with the story line itself, but sadly, everything else was a bit unremarkable.
The characters weren't all that memorable. Gregory was sadly pretty flat for a main character. He was all about being the "easy-going funny guy" and that was basically the end of his personality. Brian seemed to mostly be the "shy-unassuming-best-friend" but he had some shiny moments and if you look for it, you can even detect some growth. I was actually most impressed by one of the secondary characters most. (I would tell you who he is, but that would be a spoiler.) It's a little sad when a secondary character can outshine a main character.
I have to say though, I was pretty surprised by the ending. Maybe I should have seen it coming, but I really didn't. A surprise ending is usually a plus (as was in this case.) I found the writing to be a bit awkward to begin with, but I settled into it after a while.
Final thoughts: Overall it was unremarkable, but not bad. The story would be good for a MG reader, but the writing may be a bit hard for them to get used to.
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publish Date: May 2004
Series: Norumbegan Quartet #1
Rating: 3.5 stars