Malamander was written by Thomas Taylor and first published in 2019. It is a middle grade fantasy story which focuses on a young girl’s hunt for her missing parents at a mysterious seaside resort. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Herbert Lemon holds the prestigious post of Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. It’s his job to take care of all lost luggage and do everything he can to reunite it with its owners. However, when Violet Palma appears in his office, he realises that his job has just gotten more complicated. Violet was found in the hotel as a baby and now wants Herbert’s help to locate her missing parents.

As they explore the quaint town of Eerie-on-Sea, Violet quickly learns that nothing is quite as it seems. A fortune telling mechanical mermonkey prescribes books to visitors at the Eerie Book Dispensary, cats can talk and the owner of the fish and chip shop can’t leave his workplace due to a siren’s curse. Yet most mysterious of all is the tragic tale of the Malamander.

As Violet learns more about the fish man, she discovers that both of her parents were also obsessed with the legend. Could the Malamander have something to do with their disappearance, and could its wish-granting egg be the key to getting them back? Unfortunately for Violet and Herbert, there are others who are keen to get their hands to the Malamander egg, and they are prepared to hurt anyone who gets in their way…

Malamander was a fast-paced and fun light read which is sure to delight middle grade readers. It really reminded me of the anachronistic feel of a Lemony Snicket novel as, while a brief reference to Pokémon placed it in present day, the novel could otherwise have been set in any time period. The setting of Eerie-on-Sea will be familiar to anyone who has ever visited an English seaside resort, with its pier, chip shops and general bric-a-brac shops. Yet, Taylor presents the town off-peak, which neatly captures how creepy these resorts can be after the crowds have left.

This sets the mood for the story in a way that is both effective and highly memorable, creating a world which is humorous and eerie in equal measure. At its heart, Malamander is a mystery story but it is nicely sprinkled with fantastical and horrific elements. As Violet gathers clues relating to her parents’ final hours, she slowly comes to see that everything is linked to annual sightings of a horrifying “fish man”.

Malamander is cleverly written and every page is an utter joy to read. As the heroes search the town for clues, they visit an assortment of weird locations which, although seemingly familiar, have been embellished by all manner of fantastical elements to make them truly stand out. I also truly appreciated Taylor’s word play as I am a sucker for a good pun. Many of the characters within the novel have names which are plays on words – including Herbert Lemon and Violet Palma themselves – which added an extra layer of whimsy to this already magical tale.

The fast-paced narrative is told in first-person from the perspective of Herbert, a not-quite reliable narrator who does his best to hide the town’s oddness from both Violet and the reader. My curiosity regarding the fate of Violet’s parents was certainly enough to hold my interest throughout and I never got bored while reading the story. Although the plot can be both sad and a little scary in places, it was still clearly written with its target audience in mind and never felt unsuitable for younger readers. The Malamander itself was a very creative creature, and was easy to empathise with despite being monstrous. Although fish men aren’t an original concept, Taylor really did make this creature his own through its hauntingly tragic backstory.

In the final chapters, the book built to a gripping climax which pitted the protagonists against a truly unpleasant villain. The novel carries a nice message regarding acceptance and forgiveness. Although Violet’s investigation has a bittersweet ending, it does at least give her closure and a chance to move on. Yet, as the story drew to a close, I did realise that there were still a few loose ends hanging. Herbert’s mysterious past, in particular, is glossed over and I really hope that this is something that Taylor is going to address in a future instalment.

In terms of characterisation, Malamander contains some very memorable characters. Despite the slightly unbelievable nature of the tale, both Herbert and Violet are very strong protagonists. Both of them show very different personalities and it’s easy for the reader to empathise with Herbert’s caution and Violet’s burning drive to find out the truth.

While the ultimate villain of the story is blatantly obvious from their first appearance and driven by the most basic of motivations, the remainder of the cast is surprisingly well developed. The inhabitants of Eerie-on-Sea are all very colourful and many hide surprising secrets which are only revealed towards the end of the tale – from Madame Kraken’s true motivation for spying on the town from above, to Mrs Fossil’s biggest regret. Malamander is truly a story of hidden depths, and I am not going to say anything further about these here because part of the joy of reading this book is discovering them for yourself.

Anyhow, apologies for the short review but I think I’ve covered just about everything. All in all, I was really pleasantly surprised by Malamander and it is certainly a novel that I would recommend. The story was subtly fantastical and really did remind me of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. It presents a fast-paced plot, atmospheric setting and truly memorable characters. Malamander was a really strong start to this new series and I can’t wait to see where Taylor will take Herbert and Violet’s adventures next.

Malamander can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on

2 Comments (+add yours?)

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