The Night Gardener (2014) by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian England, The Night Gardener features two Irish siblings, Molly and Kip, whose family has become separated when leaving the famine in Ireland in search for a better life. Part mystery, part paranormal fantasy, the story has its roots in Washington Irving and Ray Bradbury. The children answer an advertisement searching for servants at the Windsor country estate in Cellar Hollow--an area known to locals as the sourwoods. When they lose their way, the locals pretend not to know where the house is (in an effort to save them from harm) but they finally make their way there.
Constance Windsor, the lady of the house, is not pleased to see them. She hadn't wanted her husband to advertise for servants. There is something strange about her--pale and lifeless, she is by turns nice and mean. And she looks nothing like the warm, healthy woman in a painting above the fireplace. It's as if something is sucking the life out of her. Before long Molly and Kip realize that there's something strange about the house as well. Muddy footprints appear in the hallways. Flowers grow overnight. And there's a thin, dark stranger who roams the grounds in the moonlight. And why do the Windsors insist that the tree which grows way too close to the house mustn't be trimmed? It will take all of Molly and Kip's courage--to help the Windsors fight the evil that surrounds their house and find their way back to the happy family they once were.
This is an interesting and atmospheric fantasy/mystery. I am quite sure that if I were younger I would have enjoyed it much more--probably as much as Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. But I'm afraid that at this point in my life, it just doesn't hit all the notes for me. The pacing seemed a bit slow in the middle and I wasn't a fan of the bullying that went on by Alistair (the son of the house). It was nice to see him redeem himself at the end, though. And the ending was very strong. I thought the method for defeating the Night Gardener and the tree was very clever. ★★★
First line: The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.
Last line: Molly and her brother swapped stories as their little wagon carried them out of the valley and into the warm light of the new day.
Deaths = 5 (four killed by the tree; one burned to death)