This is easily one of the best books I've ever read. It's just fucking genius. The writing was phenomenal.
David, a 12 year old boy who loves his books, loses his mother. He gets lost in the world that's slowly evolving around him - there's a great war going on, his father is moving on with his life, and, well he's an angry 12 year old boy. His mother has been taken from him, a usurper is trying to take her place, and he's being replaced with a half sibling. This book is largely about his grief and loss and coming to terms with them.
In the middle of all of this he falls into a fantasy world that is a world made by the minds of those that have come before him, and to some sense, himself. The stories he grew up reading are real, and they're ugly. All of those dark fairy tales (that are all dark if you ignore the Disneyfication) are made even darker, and it's absolutely delicious. There's sex, death, child abuse, torture, power grabs, communist collectives, gluttony... Everything that makes those old folk tales scary... and awesome.
Connolly does a great job of writing a distraught child, that I can personally feel for. David loses his mother at 12. I lost my mother at 11. David's father (in a few months) starts seeing someone who was involved in her caretaking. My father also married one of my dead mother's caretakers. David is bitter and angry and lost at life and having a hard time finding his way, and it was written as real as I remember it being for me. Through the heartbreaking journey, either I sympathized with David too much and got sucked in, or Connolly just wrote it damn well, and it was easy to be sucked in.
The fantasy land was fantastic. It was dark, and it was dangerous. And through it, David grew up, not too much, but enough. There are hints at things just beyond his knowledge that he can't (or won't quite) recognize, but in the end he became a better person for what he went through. He learns he can understands and can accept life's changes.
I love re-imagined fairy/folk tales, and this is easy one of my more favorite books with that element. The blending of the dark tales and the coming of age was wonderful. Definitely not a kid's book, but definitely awesome.