Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse

Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse

Curtis Jobling
For ages 9 to 12
Penguin, 2015   ISBN: 978-0451474797

For centuries, members of Max’s family have been ridding the world of the monsters that live in our midst. Their family name, the Van Helsings, is famous, and many of them lost their lives as they carried out their duties to keep the world monster-free. Max’s father was one of these people.

Since the death of his father, Max has been raised by Jed, his father’s friend. Thanks to Jed’s care, Max is already a skilled monster hunter and he has rid his area of many undesirable creatures. In fact, he dispatches a vampire one night just before his thirteenth birthday, which is no mean feat for someone who is so young. What makes Max different from his predecessors is that he tries, when possible, to “rehabilitate” the monsters he encounters. Some, like ghouls, are really not dangerous. Others, like vampires, have to be destroyed.

Max’s life is not easy but he manages to cope, and then, on his thirteenth birthday, strange things start to happen. Every monster that he encounters attacks him. Even his own hell hound puppy, who was very affectionate the day before, assaults him. Max cannot figure out what is going on. A fire phantasm that tries to cook him tells Max that he is a “Marked One.” Neither Jed not Max understand what this means, but what they do know is that for some reason Max has a target on his back and he needs to find out why.

Jed and Max don’t have long to wait before whoever is behind what is going on strikes. Max’s neighbor, a little boy called, Wing, is kidnapped by a gargoyle, and Max and his friend Syd set off in pursuit to rescue him. By some miracle they are able to get to Wing before something horrific happens to him, only to find out soon after that Jed has been taken by someone whose initials are UV. Max has no idea who his enemy is and he does not have much time to find out. If he does not turn up in at Gallows Hill Burying ground at sunset the next day, Jed will be hurt. Or worse.

Max decides that the only choice he has is to go and talk to Mr. Crumb, a pawnbroker who just happens to be half goblin. Max’s relationship with Crumb is complicated and Max does not trust him, but Crumb does listen to what Max has to say about his problem. He has no idea what is going on but he knows someone who might. Someone called Clay who lives in Undercity is “as wise as the hills and as old as the earth himself.”

At first Crumb refuses to take Max to Undercity. After all, the place is populated by monsters, all of whom will want to kill Max as soon as they see him. Eventually, Max manages to persuade Crumb to help him, and the two set off for Undercity, going through the sewers to get there. Max finds out that the cause of his problems is a very old curse that was laid on his family, and that a very dangerous being is behind it all, a being who is eager to rid the world of the Van Helsings and their ilk for good.

With an ancient curse, monsters, magical beings of great lineage, and scenes with epic fights, this is a tale that anyone who likes fantasy adventures will enjoy.