Curse of the Night Wolf: Barnaby Grimes, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Curse of the Night Wolf: Barnaby Grimes, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Fun series start, but violence makes it best for older kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.


Fairly gruesome for a book aimed at middle-graders: werewolves kill people by ripping out their throats and snapping their necks; they also tear several horses apart; humans are turned into wolves, killed, and skinned to make fur coats; a wolf is killed by falling into a vat of boiling glue; there's a swordfight with injuries; and in a preview of the next book a man is about to have his heart cut out while he's still alive.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink and get drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the violence here is a bit more gruesome than one might expect from a book the publisher says is for kids as young as 8. Wolves rip out people's throats and snap their necks, tear apart horses, and are skinned to make coats. None of this is described in much detail, but it might be too much for sensitive children.

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What's the story?

Barnaby Grimes is a tick-tock lad -- able to traverse the rooftops of a pseudo-Victorian London to deliver messages and run errands with great speed and punctuality. One evening he is attacked on a rooftop by a giant wolf, only barely escaping with his life. Soon after, he meets a doctor who is giving poor people an elixir with some unusual side-effects, and he begins to suspect that the doctor is not as benevolent as he seems.

Is it any good?

If the opening page of this series opener doesn't draw in even the most reluctant of readers, then nothing will. Barnaby is a most satisfying hero -- bright, massively competent, utterly independent, as good with a sword as with a scientific investigation or a bit of detective work. Though his age, both in text and illustrations, is indeterminate, young readers will have fun imagining a life as free and exciting as his. The Dickensian setting adds another layer of fascination; it's a nice combination of mystery, humor, and horror, and the action is well-paced.

While the text size, length, and publisher's recommendation make this look like a middle-grade book, the level of violence is a bit higher than in most stories aimed at 8-year-olds. Some kids will find the violence is too much for them, but upper elementary kids and reluctant middle school readers will think it's a hoot, and look forward to the next installment which, judging by the excerpt at the back of this book, has a Temple of Doom feel to it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of this author/illustrator team's various series. What makes them so popular? Is the violence part of that? Is this series more violent than their previous ones? If you liked this, what makes it appealing to you? Do you think the authors are aware of that?

Book details

  • Author: Paul Stewart
  • Illustrator: Chris Riddell
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: David Fickling Books
  • Publication date: September 1, 2008
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
  • Number of pages: 204
  • Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
  • Last updated: December 4, 2019

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horror and fantasy

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