Devilskein and Dearlove, the new young adult novel from Alex Smith, is dark and colourful, intriguing and peculiar.
The novel tells the story of Erin Dearlove, a 13-year-old who is struggling to adjust to living with her aunt in a bustling part of Cape Town. Erin is clever, precocious, and troubled by a dark secret. She develops a friendship with Mr Devilskein, her upstairs neighbour, who has secrets stranger than her own: he guards the keys to six mysterious doors. When he shares access to the magical worlds behind the doors with Erin, danger, friendship and adventure ensue.
In this excerpt, Erin discovers an underwater paradise:
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A smile crept onto Mr Devilskein’s hideous face, and it would have been fearsome had there not been a twinkle in the monster’s eyes. ‘I have heard, or let me be honest, overheard, that you have an interest in the sea.’
Erin stared at the inside of her cup, where a last drop of tea rolled away to reveal a delicate image of a lady’s face. ‘You mean surfing?’
‘That involves the sea, doesn’t it?’ He frowned.
‘I guess so.’
‘Well,’ he clapped his hands together, and produced from his palm a key. ‘This is the key to the turquoise door and it will take you to your surprise.’ He placed the key before her. It didn’t look at all like the key Erin already possessed for that particular door. It was older and more brassy and ornate. She felt she was being tricked. She stared at the key without touching it.
‘Oh for goodness’ and badness’ sake!’ Mr Devilskein looked fierce. ‘Finally, I give you permission and a key and all you do is sit there. Run along, child, and see what is beyond the door.’
Erin looked from the key to Mr Devilskein and then at Calvados, who had opened one eye and was watching with interest. ‘Where is Zhou?’
‘You will not need the cricket for what is behind that door. Now go before I change my mind.’
Quite slowly and reluctantly, Erin left the kitchen where they had been having tea, passed through the shadows created by the towers of shoeboxes and up to the turquoise door. The lock had definitely been changed. It had a wider gape, fit for a fatter key than the one she owned. She inserted the key and gave it a turn. As she stepped across the threshold, she was sucked inwards into a cool, green, underwater realm. The door was no longer visible. Ah! He has found me out and now he is murdering me: a deep-sea death. At first she thought she would surely drown, because try as she might to surface from the salty world, no matter how far up she swam, there never was a brim or top or surface. There was water everywhere. Soon she realised she could see quite well in spite of the salty atmosphere and that she wasn’t struggling to breathe. On the contrary, a stream of bubbles moved with her as she went, and when she touched her cheeks it felt like she had developed gills. How curious and how glorious! As she was beginning to enjoy being like a fish, from nowhere came the whooshing sound of water bodies and momentarily she was overwhelmed by thousands of translucent jellyfish, brilliant yellow arrow squids and indigo-blue flying squids, all with waving, feathery legs like those of dancers. If the sight of them hadn’t been so beautiful and strange, Erin might have been frightened, especially since if they so chose, the jellyfish could have stung her to a painful demise. But the creatures were not interested in harming her. They were on their way to an important gathering and they were moving at a rapid pace. Soon they left Erin behind in the peace of the ocean and its corals of many hues.
It was dreamy and serene until the swishing of currents and kelp was outdone by a clatter of armour-coated claws and feelers. Coming up on Erin’s left was a vast orange and red battalion of lobsters, spider crabs, horseshoe crabs, and porcelain crabs. Erin yelped, for fear that they would trample her as they went their way, but she need not have worried, for they parted briefly to accommodate her presence.
‘What is this place?’ Erin asked nobody in particular, since there was nobody to ask, except the slither of ten thousand green and blue sea snakes that, like the crabs and the squids had appeared from nowhere, and were heading somewhere in a great hurry. Never having been a great fan of snakes, Erin froze in horror at the sight of all those beady eyes and lithe, patterned bodies. Again her trepidation was unnecessary; the creatures had no interest in the human who was not hurrying to the ball, like every other body in that watery realm.