Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Count Karlstein

by Philip Pullman
September 2011

 I checked out and tried to listen to  River Secrets by Shannon Hale, but was really very disappointed. The readers were miscast. They were simply readers, if that makes sense. They didn't make their characters live.  It sounded like a mediocre college production.  I couldn't make it past the first chapter. So, on to another full cast audio: Count Karlstein.

I've learned that this was Philip Pullman's first book for children and it was originally written as a school play for the school where Pullman taught.
Kind of funny... the book that originated as a school play became a fantastic audiobook while River Secrets sounded like a school play!

Count Karlstein owns a large estate and cares for his two orphaned nieces, Lucy and Charlotte. He cares nothing about them, however. It's revealed early on that he has made a pact with Zamiel, "the demon huntsman" and plans to leave Lucy and Charlotte in a locked cabin as an offering to Zamiel.

The demon huntsman rides through the land on the eve of All Souls each year. People fear him and parents use his name to discipline their children. He's a boogey man, but he's apparently real.
Karlstein bargained with Zamiel and agreed to let him hunt in his forest, taking whatever he wanted if he left Karlstein himself alone. But twenty years have passed and the pact is about to expire. Karlstein must give Zamiel a special offering or face his wrath. That's why he's decided to give up Lucy and Charlotte.

The plot sounds horrible and scary. But the book isn't that way (at least not until the end). It's actually a rather funny book.

One of the household servants in Castle Karlstein is named Hildi. She learns of the plot and sets out to foil Karlstein's plan. Helping her is Max, the assistant to a traveling magician, and Miss Augusta Davenport, the girls' former teacher.

As I said, it's kind of a funny book, made more so by the great performances in the audiobook. The scene when Zamiel arrives is very scary (at least listening to it is). But there's a happy ending. I don't think it spoils anything to reveal that. Count Karlstein reads a lot like a fairy tale.
I really recommend listening to this book. Philip Pullman is a good storyteller and his first children's book is made all the better by the excellent cast of readers.

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