The Honours by Tim Clare, published by Canongate Books, is one of those rare stories which starts out as a mystery and ends up being far more. Not only does Clare lead you on a grand adventure as seen through the eyes of his 13 year old protagonist Delphine, he gradually pulls you into a world where everything has hidden meanings.
Behind each action, behind everybody’s behaviour, lurks a secret. Over the course of the book Delphine gradually discovers the reason for the gathering of various odd people in an old manor house in the English countryside. Set in the 1935 a war is looming on the grounds of Alderberen Hall – but its not the war you or Delphine imagine it to be.
Delphine, along with her mother and father, have travelled to Alderberen hall in the hopes of finding a cure for her father’s mental instability. As the saying goes, he had a difficult war and is obviously suffering from what we would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact each of the people staying, or living, at the house have had a difficult time and have placed themselves under the care of the mysterious Mr. Propp in the hopes of some sort of miracle cure.
Delphine wastes no time in ferreting out some of the hall’s secrets. First discovering a series of hidden passages allowing her to hide behind walls and eavesdrop on the adults. Not knowing what it is exactly they are talking about, when she overhears Propp and two others talking about people across the channel, her imagination kicks in and she thinks they are spies working against the interests of Great Britain.
Delphine’s imagination is vivid. She lives in a world inspired by adventure and spy novels. She visualizes utilizing one of the many hunting rifles or shotguns in the hall to take out her enemies. Even her terminology – head shot, gut shot, and shot to the knee – come straight out of a Boys Own Adventure story.
However, it’s only when she discovers a network of tunnels crisscrossing the hall’s grounds does she start drawing closer to the truth of who and what the people across the channel really are. For The Honours of the book’s title doesn’t refer to awards for bravery, but something far more sinister. Something that some humans would go to almost any lengths to obtain.
In The Honours Clare drops us into what initially looks like a between the wars mystery story which he gradually evolves into a trip into the dark side of fantasy. As the plot progresses he pulls us deeper and deeper into a story of fear and wonder.
Even more impressive is how there’s a certain moral ambiguity to all the characters, including Delphine. We can’t be sure of anybody’s motivation even when the curtain on what’s really happening is drawn back. Are there any heroes or villains in the story? Or, as in reality, is everybody a little of each?
With Delphine Clare has created a hero whose moral compass is just as askew as anyone else’s. She has no problems firing a shotgun at somebody if they do something she thinks is wrong.
However, she’s also resourceful, ingenious, and without a doubt very brave. In spite of her obvious flaws, brought on by her father’s illness and her desperation to escape reality, she’s a compelling character. Following her as she makes her way through The Honours is a joy and an adventure.
The Honours by Tim Clare is a wonderful combination of dark fantasy, mystery, and adventure that is treat to read. While it might be a little old for some young readers, anyone from around 13 up with a taste for adventure will enjoy it thoroughly.