The Marvels by Brian Selznick

I fell in love with Brian Selznick’s stories when I first opened The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Brian’s style of storytelling, alternating between text and illustration, really appeals to me.  His black and white illustrations are stunning and ‘reading’ them is like watching a movie.  I have been eagerly awaiting Brian’s new book, The Marvels, and I was completely captivated by it.


The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage. Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.

The Marvels really is marvellous!  Brian Selznick has given us another incredible, unforgettable story and a beautiful work of art.  It’s difficult to know where to start when talking about The Marvels as there is just so much that I love about this book! I want to carry it around with me wherever I go.

The story is in two parts.  The first part is completely told through illustration and takes up the first 390 pages.  This tells the story of the Marvel family, starting with Billy and Marcus in 1766, who became a famous acting family.  Through Brian’s amazing illustrations we follow the many generations of the Marvel family until the story ends abruptly.  The story then jumps forward to 1990 and follows Joseph, a boy who loves stories, and his quest to find his uncle.  Joseph has run away from his school to find his uncle, Albert Nightingale. However, Uncle Albert isn’t quite who Joseph pictured.  Why is Albert’s house in such disarray, where are those mysterious sounds coming from, and why won’t Albert give Joseph any answers? Joseph knows that Albert is hiding a huge secret and it’s up to him to discover what it is.

Brian had me gripped from the very first page.  The way that Brian tells the story of the Marvel family, through illustration alone, makes the reader piece the story together themselves, rather than telling you with words.  It is almost like watching a silent movie.  Brian gives you different views of the action, from huge, sweeping shots of the Kraken being tossed on the waves, to close-up shots of character’s faces (like the one of Marcus below).  These close-up shots show so much detail and emotion.  It amazes me what Brian can do with a few strokes of a pencil!


Image from The Marvels by Brian Selznick.

There are lots of twists and turns in the story that keep you guessing.  I certainly didn’t expect the secrets that were revealed, and to me that is a sign of a really good story.  The ending of the story is perfect too and left me smiling.

The Marvels is one of my top reads of the year.  It’s the perfect gift for any book-lover (just look at that lovely hard cover and gold edging!).  This is a must-read book and I guarantee you will fall in love with it.

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