Betsy Bird’s forgotten favorites post immediately made me think of one of mine, the sorely overlooked Iremonger Series by Edward Carey. To my mind it has some of the same quirky and originality of Frances Hardinge, D. M. Cornish (Betsy’s forgotten favorite), Lemony Snicket, and — most of all — Mervyn Peake (as Gormenghast seems a certain inspiration for Carey’s books). The first book, Heap House, got stars from PW, Kirkus, SLJ, and many best of the year accolades. The second and third seemed to get less attention, lost in the ether for some reasons as I think they are strong follow-ups to the first book.
I am surprised not to see more about Edward Carey’s Iremonger Trilogy, the last of which — Lungdon — has just been published. I first learned of it after reading an enthusiastic New York Times review for the first volume, Heap House. (I see now that it got several starred reviews and ended up on many 2014 best of the year.) I got my hands on it right away and then couldn’t wait for the second which came out this spring. Having just finished the final book, I can say that the whole trilogy is terrific.
The story is of the Iremonger family, who live in the huge and sprawling Heap House, outside of London, in an alternate Victorian steampunkish, gothic, fantastical universe. This singular and snobbish family oversee the heaps, piles of trash from the city of London (or Lungdon as they call it) from which they are exiled. They are a harsh family with a very odd aspect — all have “birth objects,” things they must keep near them at all times. Among them is Clod who has a unique condition — he can hear the objects. His birth object, for example, a universal bath plug, repeatedly mutters “James Henry Hayward.” And into the world of the Iremongers comes Lucy Pennant, a girl from the city who arrives to work as a servant at the House. Over the course of the three novels, the world of the Iremongers and the residents of London are changed forever.
Told through a variety of voices, the story is rich and compelling. Carey’s world building is superb. These Iremongers and Heap House reminded me again and again of the equally weird world of Mervyn Peake’s marvelous Gormenghast books. The characters are similarly strange, the language ornate and original, the place fabulously described, and the plot riveting. In addition to being a terrific read, the books themselves are gorgeous, full of Carey’s art. Dark at moments, emotionally charged at others, this is one superb series.