Back in black are the Stregia-Borgia clan, Scotland’s humorous and wildly entertaining family that’s part Harry Potter, part Lemony Snicket, and part Addams Family, in the second book in Debi Gliori’s “Pure Dead” series. In Pure Dead Wicked, the family tackles such common problems as shoddy building contractors attempting to fleece them out of loads of money by destroying their roof; crooked housing developers; pet dragons that accidently set fire to BMWs; and miniature human/goose clones created via the Internet. Will the Strega-Borgias be forced to evacuate their house after it is condemned as unsafe and leave their ancestral castle (complete with moat and a talking crocodile, named Tock) behind forever?
The Strega-Borgias consist of Signor Luciano and Signora Baci Strega-Borgia, the proud parents of Titus, their 12-year-old son; Pandora, their older daughter, age 10; and their twenty-month-old daughter known as Damp, that being the perpetual state of her diapers. The desire for further education is something to be commended, and at the start of Pure Dead Wicked, the good Signora is six months into attaining a college degree in Sorcery & Witchcraft. The children’s nanny, Mrs. Flora McLachlan, is more adept at witchcraft, though she likes to keep it on the down-low.
Pure Dead Wicked opens with the first hints that something is dreadfully wrong with the slate roofing tiles of the Strega-Borgai’s beloved house, the Strega-Schloss. Just as Signor Luciano Strega-Borgia manages to free Damp and her extremely pungent diaper from the seat of the family car, three of the slates break off, barrel down the steep incline of their roof, and embed themselves at a forty-five degree angle in the roof of their car. Unfortunately, the Signora’s attempt at repairing the roof magically only result in a giant bandage materializing on the Strega-Schloss’s roof, so they have to resort to searching for a roofing contractor.
This (believe it or not) is only the start of their misfortunes. Similar to “The Series of Unfortunate Events” books in this regard, much of the pleasure in reading the “Pure Dead” books is discovering just how outrageous the misfortunes can ultimately get, and in seeing how the characters work themselves out of seemingly impossible difficulties. The clever names Debi Gliori chooses for her characters add to the fun - the roofing contractor they finally settle on, Hugh Pylum-Haight, and the proprietors of the Bogginview Estates whom he conspires with, Vincent and Vadette Bella-Vista.
Much of Pure Dead Wicked, as in the other books in the series, focuses on the kids and how they and their menagerie of mythical beasts (a yeti named Knot, their dragon, Ffup, and griffin, Sab, the afore-mentioned Tock, a lipstick-wearing tarantula name Tarantella, and Pandora’s rat, Multitudina) get into and out of trouble. One of the worst (albeit funny) complications to the plot has to do with Titus’ wish to clone miniature versions of himself and Pandora to do their chores and serve as slaves. By using an almost totally raw goose as an incubator, ectoplasm as a growth medium, fresh blood from himself and Pandora for the DNA, and his computer as a source of infrared light, how could such a do-it-yourself cloning program fail? Well, possibly if your baby sister thinks the computer keyboard is like a piano’s and pats the keyboard at the crucial moment when the cloning process is being activated--but, what chance could there be of THAT happening?
Pure Dead Wicked continues on the heritage of the first book of the series, Pure Dead Magic, by being hugely entertaining reading fun. What better gift to give one’s children? Or, oneself, for that matter, despite the age for which a book might be suggested? Some of the best literature is being written today (as it has been historically) for children and teens. Check out Mark Twain, J.K. Rowling, and Lemony Snicket if you don’t believe me – and be sure to add Debi Gliori and her “Pure Dead” series to your list.