Children's Review: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding: A Fiendish Arrangement

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, begins with "A Word from the Malefactor." "Light a candle and step close to the looking glass," he says, "Time is short, and we cannot delay." It is of the utmost importance that you remember three lessons: "The first is that you can never trust a Redding."

Seventh-grader Prosper Redding is a descendant of Honor Redding, the founder of the small town of Redhood, Mass. While all of the members of his family--including his twin sister, Prudence (Prue)--are award-winners or at the top of their field, Prosper "was the first to set the record for the most times... dozing off during class in a single year." He knows that every generation of his family has been more successful than the last and that his family is, in fact, quite famous for being rich, but Prosper thinks "you might be interested to know that there is nothing interesting about the Reddings."

It's Founder's Day, an October celebration of the Redding family's founding of Redhood. Prosper's parents are out of the country and so are not around when Prue and Prosper arrive home to find Grandmother Redding ("the Devil in a dress suit") has prepared a surprise family reunion of sorts. As Grandmother (who "would skin a puppy if she thought it would make a good hat") begins shepherding everyone down to the always-locked basement, Prosper receives a panicked call from his father: "you have to get your sister and get out of the Cottage right now." The line goes dead and an extremely angry Grandmother ushers Prue and Prosper into the dungeon, er, basement.

Here, something weird happens involving a big, old book, bloody handwriting and a knife--a knife Grandmother uses on Prosper. Before she can hurt him further, Prosper is rescued by a stranger who smuggles him off to Salem. The stranger introduces himself as Prosper's long-lost uncle Barnabas and settles the frightened preteen into a room with his daughter, Nell, a young witch around Prosper's age. He tells Prosper that to establish his family and make his line successful, Honor Redding made a pretty standard deal with a fiend: the fiend would make the family prosperous and, upon their deaths, the souls of every family member would writhe in eternal agony as slaves to the fiend. Liking the success but not the "eternal servitude" thing, Honor went back on the deal and tried to kill the fiend... who is now inside Prosper and demanding revenge.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding somehow balances family drama, humor and chilling otherworldliness. Prosper is an extremely likable protagonist who can't help but be the family black sheep--he does have a demon inside him, after all. The fiend, Alastor, is a constant malevolent presence who adds a significant amount of humor as he tries, repeatedly, to convince kindhearted Prosper to make an evil deal. Imaginative, exhilarating and outstandingly funny, Alexandra Bracken's newest work is devious and delightful. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Shelf Talker: Black sheep seventh-grader Prosper Redding must overcome a sarcastic demon inside of him to save himself and his family from eternal servitude.

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