The Grandest Bookshop in the World is a children’s fantasy novel by Amelia Mellor, it’s actually a fictionalized version of a real Australian family and the bookstore they lived in during the 1890’s. In 1893, in the city of Melbourne, Australia the Cole family run the Cole Book Arcade, a quite literally magical place filled books of all sorts, sweet shops, tea rooms, toy stores and other curios to enchant the soul and stimulate the imagination. But when two of the children Pearl and Valentine (or Vally as he’s often referred to) discover that their father has entered into a Faustian deal with a dark and mysterious stranger they engage in a series of games to not only save their home but their father’s life as well. Aided not only by the other members of the family but staff members of the Arcade, they hope to save the grandest bookshop in the world.
As I mentioned before, this is a fictionalized story of the real Cole family of Melbourne who really did live in a book arcade who staffed it with people from all over the world and filled it with as many wonders as they could. Reading the author’s notes at the end of the book about the family and their patriarch actually shows how few creative liberties were done for the story, it’s genuinely surprising. In fact, the biggest fictional piece is the presence of magic, since the story is primarily told from the perspective of the young Pearl magic is treated in a matter-of-fact sort of way. It’s kind of funny that even on the precipice of a new century, when the telephone and the electric light are still new and innovative, magic is treated with the same wonder and astonishment even as part of everyday life.
Amelia Mellor does a spectacular job bringing the book arcade to life, later setting up the impending sense of dread as the shops decay the longer the games continue. The games are filled with puzzles and riddles that both the characters and reader must figure out, it actually reminds me a lot of the Deltora Quest books I read in my youth, author Emily Rodda also snuck puzzles in for the reader to figure out. But Ms. Mellor’s true talent is in the writing of the Cole family themselves, eccentric and at times dysfunctional but above all else, loving. She perfectly captures the point of view of the two Cole children battling not only for their family’s life and home but for their own memories too, as terrifying as some of the challenges are nothing comes close to the horror of the main character’s minds slowly slipping away.
The Grandest Bookshop in the World is an engaging read, not just for the grade school demographic but for grownups as well. It teaches the reader to marvel not only at the grandiose but the miniscule as well. To be bold and treasure life and all that it gives you, that grief can’t be shied away from but can be healed through love. And to remember that rainbows appear when the gloom of the storm and the warmth of the sun come together. And while fleeting, can come back just as beautiful and inspirational as before.
You can find her book at Amazon or here: https://affirmpress.com.au/publishing/the-grandest-bookshop-in-the-world/
To learn more about the author you can visit her blog here: https://ameliamellorsfantasticnarratograph.wordpress.com/category/the-grandest-bookshop-in-the-world/