Children/Young: Un fragmento de noche en un frasco

Author: Daniel Hernández Chambers
-Editorial Everest
-US Release Date: 09-20-2012
-Reviewed by:Angelica Cofre
-Review Release:June 30th, 2013

Sophie, a seventeen year old girl of Native American heritage is kidnapped in the United States and brought by her captor to London.  In London she is delivered by him to Lord Voriak, a rather sinister man who lives in a grand mansion which appears from the outside to be closed to the world.  She makes no attempt to escape since her captor hands to Lord Voriak a small perfume size bottle which contains her shadow.  Her captor tells Lord Voriak that as long as he has this bottle she will be his prisoner.  During this encounter there is also the presence of a silent man dressed like a Hindu.  He is informed that Sophie has unusual powers, among them the ability to find anyone.  She also seems to be able to read the past and predict the future.  Lord Voriak welcomes Sophie to his “collection” as he guides her to the third floor of the mansion, which unlike the rest of the house is devoid of ornaments or expensive furniture.  The room is in the attic and Sophie realizes that other “creatures” live there, Raiz, a Homunculus (a miniature man) and “Arcilla” a figure made of clay, as well as Icaro a cross between a monkey and a bat, and Vincent who is an old infirm man.  This collection was started by Lord Voriak’s father Vincent.  He shows her to the second floor where there is another collection, but these specimens appear to be dead, as opposed to the creatures living in the attic that are alive.  Lord Voriak asks her to choose to which collection, the dead or the living she wants to belong.  He then shows her an old photograph of six men and asks her to find them all for him.  In exchange he will return her shadow.  

In order to find them, Sophie claims she needs to know more about the men in the photograph.  We are introduced to the members of the “Sociedad Mivart” (Mivart for the hotel which later became the iconic Claridge Hotel in London where they held their first meeting).  Their aim in keeping with the times is to explore exotic locations in the British Empire.  Lord Voriak tells her first of Mr. Wellington, a wealthy owner of ships who finances their operations.  She knows now where to find him.

The narrative becomes then centered in London, and the world of chimneys, terraces and two small time thieves, Rob and Adam who live and survive by stealing.  Adam appears motivated by hunger.  In one of these escapades he sees Sophie in the window of the attic and is struck by her beauty. He climbs through the roofs to the window and she saves him from falling.  They meet in this way and he realizes that she is a prisoner in this house.  Adam returns to his mother’s house to find out that they do not have money to pay rent.   She asks him to visit Rudy Slade a crook who lends money at high interest rates to poor people.  Adam goes and obtains the money but is assaulted and robbed from it.  Though he realizes that the assault has been planned by Slade he goes back and obtains a second loan and is told that in order to repay this he will have to do something for Slade, steal a small sword which he will replace with an exact replica of the sword he will steal from William Ravenscroft, member of the Mivart Society

In the meantime Mr. Wellington has been assassinated while painting.  Scotland Yard gets involved.  Adam breaks into William Ravenscroft house and is found by him trying to steal the sword.  In exchange for not turning him in he asks Adam to lead him to the person who asked him to take the sword.  They go and see Rudy Slade who tells him that it is Colonel Newcombe a member of the Mivart Society who has commissioned the robbery.  

William Ravenscroft calls for a meeting of the Society.  At this point we are told of the origin of the swords in India and the legend surrounding them, “the swords of Yamir”.  The “Mivart Society” went to India in the trail of this legend:  Naisha, daughter of Hansrig, was secretly in love with Yamir.  When Hansrig found out this banished him from court and forbid him from seeing her.  Eventually her suitors started showing up in court and all of them were assassinated. When she falls in love with one of these suitors, Yamir goes insane and kills her tearing her heart out.  Her father has five swords made, one for each death and each handle contains a drop of the blood.  It is this swords that the Society goes to India to find.  While there Victor Voriak becomes sick and the rest of the group go without him.  They find the swords.  When they go back to look for Voriak, he has disappeared.  They assume he has died, and return with the swords to London.

The last chapter of the book, titled like the book, “Un fragment o de noche en un frasco” concerns with the mysterious deaths of yet other members of the group.  These deaths duplicate the deaths of the suitors of the legend of Naisha.  We discover that the swords have been stolen by one of the members who believes that they are the clue to the fabulous lost treasure of Hansrig, while the assassinations have all been carried by the Hindu man who lives with Voriak, whom everyone believed to be dead.  In a final scene at Lord Voriak’s house, he tells them how he survived in India where he was taken to a secret chamber of caves and asked to find the swords in exchange for his life, since the swords are considered a national treasure.    The swords are returned to India and Sophie is freed and reunited with her shadow.  She goes back to America and tells Adam that they will see each other again.

The novel is divided into three chapters and an epilogue.  Each chapter is named after a major theme i.e., the first chapter is named “Galeria de Espectros” after the ghost like creatures who like in Lord Voriak’s attic. The narrative switches from a third person omniscient narrator to a first person.  Sometimes it is Sophie’s voice, others it is Adam’s or William Ravenscroft.  The dialogues are well constructed and much of the information of the novel is gleaned through them.   

One of the major difficulties I see with this book is the many plotlines, which though at points do intersect, in many instances make you lose sight of which one of them is the main story line, or what holds this narrative together.  Is this the story of Sophie and her captivity in this house with this collection of fantastical beings and the recovery of the shadow?   We are lead to believe at the beginning of the story that she is the main character, but she all but disappears in the subsequent chapters to be replaced by the story of a Dickensian London and the life of small time thieves.  Or is this the story of the “Sociedad Mivart”, its members and their travels to India in pursuit of a legend?  By mentioning the period of Britain’s’ great explorers we are to infer that the novel takes place sometime between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the XX.  Though this could have been potentially an element to explore at greater depth, the explorers quickly find what they were looking in India and return to London. 

Though the existence of characters that have para normal abilities, as well as creatures that are fantastic in nature (and the existence of a vampire among them) is not a deterrent to the verisimilitude or plausibility of the narration, there needs to be not withstanding this element, some form of internal coherence.  And I believe this is lacking in this book.  As an example, why did Lord Voriak need the help of a clairvoyant to find the members of the Society, when they all clearly lived in London or its whereabouts?   The setting of this novel appears to me to have been constructed by a method of addition of elements rather than by a careful narration which would allow the reader to imagine the period.  As a result the author does not succeed in creating a universe that the reader can inhabit, the way that for example Harry Potter’s allows us to do, in whom we can see Hogwarts School of Wizardry, moving stairways and all! 

If this is a narration driven by plot, not by setting or character development, there needed to be more clarity in the development of the element of suspense, which was the recovery of the swords, central to the story line.   I was somehow lost in the details of Dickensian London, Indian legends, clairvoyant teenagers, father’s who become addicted to blood and loan sharks.

The major themes of bravery, loyalty, greed, betrayal, revenge though present in this novel, are not depicted with sufficient strength or conviction as to have an impact. I did not find the story to be original, but rather a rehashing of elements found in the literature of Dickens, Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.  The addition of vampires, ghosts, clairvoyants and strange creatures seemed to me to be added like a ploy to engage young adult readers.