Review: The Riddles of Epsilon, by Christine Morton-Shaw

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: This is a children’s fantasy set in modern times that had some great spooky moments. The plot is enticing, there is a good old-fashioned battle between the forces of good and evil, and a couple of twists in the ending came as nice surprises. This book is definitely Recommended. See below for the full review.

From the jacket flap:

Jess has moved to a remote island called Lume off the coast of England. Her parents are restoring an old house, and Jess discovers an abandoned cottage on their property. Inside the cottage Jess encounters an eerie presence – something like a ghost but suffused with a comforting energy. She also finds three locked boxes. Inside each she finds antique papers that send her mind spinning.

As Jess unravels the mysteries of Lume, she finds the writings of Sebastian, a boy who lived one hundred years ago and whose life contains unsettling reflections of her own. To her horror, the dangers he unearthed in 1894 now begin to threaten Jess and her family. Something dark has awoken, and Jess doesn’t have much time to do something about it.

Jess has a talent for solving puzzles, riddles, and codes. She is confronted with a series of riddles that she must unlock in order to save her mother from a dark and ancient threat. Jess is guided by the creepy presence in the cottage. The mysterious guide is called Epsilon, but is he a guide from the bright side or the dark?

The Full Review of The Riddles of Epsilon

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t too sure I would actually enjoy it all that much. The reason? I prefer books where the protagonist is a part of a team – sure, she or he is the main character, the hero, but at the same time, there’s a support network of secondary characters.

In the Riddles of Epsilon, Jess is all alone for most of her battle against the forces of evil. As we get to the end of the book, she does begin to get some help and support from others, but for most of the story, she’s really only accompanied by her dog Dominic. Oh, and there’s Epsilon, but since she’s not sure whether he’s friend or foe, he doesn’t really count.

But the storyline caught my interest, and was so enjoyable and engrossing that the lack of a cast of supporting background characters didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story. Jess is an incredibly plucky and courageous hero, and at the same time carries with her a lot of the attitude that parents of teenaged girls know well (well, at least, I do).

Several scenes in the book were definitely spine-tingling or chills-inducing (take your pick). I particularly liked Morton-Shaw’s skill in rendering these scenes without things getting too gothic. She also skillfully unveils Sebastian’s story, and ties it in with the events that are unfolding for Jess in current time.

The background to the fantasy itself is well-thought out, and is as realistic as a fantasy can be. In other words, there wasn’t anything that felt out of place in the explanation. The clash between the forces of good and evil is dramatic, with an unexpected twist that I liked very much. The final surprise twist at the end of the book was interesting, and neatly tied things together.

One complaint, and really, if I could find a milder word than “complaint” I’d gladly use it, is that Jess didn’t strike me initially as a girl who enjoyed solving puzzles. The author does talk about how Jess likes to draw, but other than that, there really isn’t anything, so it comes as a bit of a surprise when Jess easily decodes the first puzzle.

The other complaint is the addition of the words “My Diary” every time we read Jess’ diary. The story is told mainly in Jess’ diary; the only other method of narration is through chat room transcripts. It’s pretty clear that Jess is writing in her diary, and really, adding “My Diary” isn’t needed to differentiate between the diary and the transcripts. I found that reading the words “My Diary” got a little annoying after a while, particularly in the last half of the book when there were no more chat room transcripts.

But these are two very minor details. The Riddles of Epsilon is an enjoyable book. The story is well-told, and very creepy at times (in that reading-a-creepy-part pleasurable way). I found myself caught up in Jess’ discoveries, with my heart in my throat several times. By the end, I was reading at a gallop, eager to find out how it all ended. All in all, this book is Recommended. Ms. Bookish’s Rating: A: Enjoyable Read ?

2 thoughts on “Review: The Riddles of Epsilon, by Christine Morton-Shaw

  1. Christine Morton-Shaw

    thanks for this intelligent review. You are so right… I hated the ‘MY DIARY’ bit too the publishers overrode it… I just wanted a voice, without hanging it onto any written thing but they wanted an actual diary.
    Thanks for the review, glad you enjoyed it in the main!
    THE HUNT FOR THE SEVENTH is now out, for 11 upwrads, hope you give it a try.
    best wishes

  2. Valerie

    Thank you for the wonderful review! I have the same opinions that you did, and I enjoyed the book as a whole. However, I have but one thing to say. The dog’s name was Domino, not Dominic! (:


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