Andrew Hope is the grandson of a man named Jocelyn Brandon, who just so happened to be a magician in charge of the small village of Melstone. And when he died, he had angered his housekeeper, so that when Jocelyn Brandon knew the end was coming, and had her try to get in touch with Andrew, she simply didn't try very hard, resulting in the fact that Jocelyn died before Andrew could reach him.
Jocelyn had left everything to Andrew, the house included, and once Andrew had moved into his grandfather's house, he set about ordering the house the way he liked things to be, which clashed with the Housekeeper, Mrs. Stock, who felt that the house should remain as it was- permanently, and who fought him- not openly, but every step of the way. And her husband, Mr. Stock, had his own wants ignored when Andrew required him to actually work on the lawns, orchards and flower garden instead of the vegetable garden that Mr. Stock hoped to use to grow his prize-winning vegetables for the Melstone fair. Andrew knows more than a little magic, but what does he know about what his grandfather really did?
Aidan Cain is a young man in trouble. Before his Gran died, she told him to go to Jocelyn Brandon should he have any troubles. Now, the foster family who took him in have had a minor war happen in their backyards when two sets of strange shadows had a fight over him one night. To protect them, Aidan has run away, and seeks out Jocelyn Brandon, who he doesn't know is dead. Aidan can do magic as well, turning two receipts into money just to get to Andrew's door, and he can see magic as well.
Aidan arrives on the same day that two workers, each one hired by a different Stock, come to Melstone House. Stache is Eustacia O'Connor, daughter of a former Jockey with a magical knack for both cooking and growing roses. Even though she has a ton of degrees and could be out doing almost anything, she stays in Melstone to take care of her father, Tarquin O'Connor. Shaun is the nephew of Mrs. Stock, the son of her sister, who owns a hair salon. He's large and dim, but very strong. In the end, Andrew ends up taking in Aidan, and hiring both Stache and Sean.
He sets Stache to setting up and working with his new computer, and Sean to cleaning out the old shed where Mr. Stock keeps the rusty old Lawnmower. In attempting to see better, Andrew pulls down the tarps covering the roof to find that there is a colored glass window in the roof, now cracked and nearly overgrown with moss.
There is another, similar window in the door to the kitchen which leads to the outside, and it was always Andrew's favorite window when he was growing up. Aidan proves to be similarly entranced with the window, and his presence causes Andrew to remember more things about the house, and about magic, such as how taking one's glasses off and cleaning them before putting them back on is a very powerful magic that can get people to do what you want.
The village of Melstone is special- everyone who lives there seems to have one or more magical "knacks", like Mr Stock for growing enormous vegetables, Tarquin O'Connor's for growing roses, and Shaun's ability with mechanical things. Even more interesting are the things that live in the land around, such as Groil the giant, who has been eating the giant vegetables that Mr. Stock has been giving Andrew as a punishment for being forced to do work.
Soon, Andrew comes to realize that doubles of the people of the town exist, and as he walks the bounds of the magical area he is responsible for, strange and stranger things start to happen- not the least of which is a man chaining off part of the land with barbed wire, a man who calls himself Mr. O. Brown. He claims that part of the land under Andrew's supervision belongs to him, by a treaty with his grandfather, which he advises Andrew to find as soon as possible. Andrew, though, is enraged at this stranger intruding on his land, and tries anything he can to get Mr. Brown thrown off the land.
At the same time, Aidan's pursuers return, and it seems that the strange Mr. Brown is behind them. But why would he want Aidan, and what is he doing in the village? And for that matter, why are so many not quite doubles of the townsfolk turning up in the area, all off whom seem to have some sort of connection to Faery? As the town fair looms, Andrew and Aidan must uncover the truth about Aidan's parentage, keep him from being stolen by the shadows, and defend the entire town from Mister Brown and his minions, and figure out what to do with Aidan before everything blows apart. But can he do it in time?
I love Jane Yolen's books, admittedly, and I especially love her Young Adult works. This book is another of that sort. But it was rather unusual, in that Aidan is not the first person we are introduced to. Instead, it's Andrew, and while most YA's use the adult as the mentor and the teen character as the student, here, Aidan seems to be the one who teaches Andrew magical tricks or is a catalyst for allowing Andrew to remember something about magic that his grandfather taught him when he was young. So it is almost as if the usual roles in the book are reversed.
But perhaps not so much, because the insights that Aidan gives Andrew are more like keys to unlock the memories he already has. I was amused at the byplay between the two Stocks, and the monster vegetables Mr. Stock grows, and the battles that Andrew had with Mrs. Stock over the placement of furniture. It's unclear at the end if the Stocks are still going to give Andrew such troubles- tradition, after all, is something they value highly, but changes are coming for everyone.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a stand-alone book, but the characters and settings are ones I want to see more of. Melstone is such a delightfully zany town, and at the same time, an utterly British small town, the same kind of ones you see parodied and depicted straight in British comedies and police procedurals. But I greatly enjoyed this book, and I would definitely recommend it to teens, although Aidan has something to do with the successful outcome of the story, in the end, it's Andrew who saves the day, and some teens may wish that the victory at the end was more due to Aidan and his new weredog, Rolf. Recommended.