House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

House of SecretsInformation

Goodreads: House of Secrets
Series: House of Secrets #1
Source: Library
Published: April 23, 2013

Official Summary

The Walker kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games . . . but everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by Denver Kristoff, a troubled writer with a penchant for the occult.

Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Walker family’s secret history and save their parents . . . and maybe even the world.


House of Secrets offers a rollicking adventure for young readers, featuring wild encounters with colossi, pirates, magicians, warriors, and more—just about anything one can imagine in a fantasy novel.   The focus is heavily on the plot, as events  tumble (sometimes literally), one after the other, immersing the audience into an action-packed story where seemingly anything can happen.

Because the emphasis is on the action, the characters are slightly disappointing. Nonetheless,  the Walker children have a fascinating dynamic.  They squabble and toss mild insults, as one might expect from real siblings.  When it really matters, however, they also come through for each other and band together as a family to fight the villains.

The children are also written as individuals, each possessing different talents that aid them in the course of the book.  Brendan, however, still stands out for his multifaceted characterization and one cannot help but wonder if he is the authors’ personal favorite.  He has a bit of a hero complex, and he always makes bad jokes at the worst possible moments, but he has also has a fierce desire to protect his family and even his annoying qualities can become endearing as readers get to know him better.  He reads like a typical twelve-year-old boy, but one who was sucked into an insanely dangerous adventure and is doing his best to deal with it.

In contrast, his sisters Eleanor and Cordelia are slightly flatter and more stereotypical.  Eleanor gets credit for a few remarks that are laugh out loud funny and is easily the most likeable of the siblings if one is not into twelve-year-old guy humor.  She is spunky and creative, and she has her priorities in place.  Cordelia is a bit of book worm, which will appeal to many readers, and she also strives to ignite a bit of romance (which will probably be explored more in book two).  However, the authors do Cordelia little credit by making her easily succumb to the villain’s temptation; her desire for power is ill-written and seems out of character, clearly added to create drama.

All three children attempt to be fairly proactive (for example, striving to protect each other or offer solutions to a plethora of problems), but often the action in the novel just happens to them.  They deal with one obstacle—and the next thing they know, their house is tumbling down a cliff and there is little for them to do besides ride it out.  Basically, the children attempt to deal with the elements of their adventure as those elements occur, but they themselves are rarely the stimuli for those elements.

Furthermore, the book does not read as much like a quest as one would expect.  The Walkers’ parents are missing and the children are stuck in a strange and dangerous land, being hunted by a witch.  There are clear goals for them here: Defeat the witch, find their way home, and find their parents (not necessarily in that order).  Yet the children generally fail to take any specific steps to make these things happen.  Of course they get a little preoccupied fighting vicious pirates for their lives and whatnot, but the only person who regularly talks about finding their parents as if it is truly a priority is Eleanor—who, like me, accuses Brendan and Cordelia of not doing anything about it.

House of Secrets has a lot going on.  For readers seeking a never-ending adventure featuring a variety of fantasy tropes, it will absolutely hit the spot.  However, this means the book is superficially entertaining, but it falls apart the more one picks at it.  The characters are a little flat and not apparently not interested in their own pressing quest.  The main villain, the witch, is frightening (and incredibly ugly—she would look highly impressive in a film), but has a flimsy backstory to explain her actions.  All the magic in the book is ill-explained.  House of Secrets is fun, a good read, but not a great one.

Series Conclusion:  I might read the next book if it came my way, but the series is not one I am too interested in pursuing.

Content Note: Some nudity (not graphically described). Very mild language (“freaking”). Definite violence.


2 thoughts on “House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

  1. George says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve kept my eye on the book, but I haven’t yet felt the desire to buy it at any of the prices I’ve seen so far. The lowest being about $4.99, I think. If I was a little more caught up on the dozens of books I already need to read, I might pick up this book someday.


    • Briana says:

      I’ve been eyeing it for awhile, too! It has a great premise and such a beautifully shiny cover!

      I probably wouldn’t mind spending $5 on it, but borrowing it from the library was a good choice too.


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