The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
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Victorian fantasy a creepy, fun read for ghost-story fans.

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

Educational Value

Depicts life of poor people in Victorian London; brief explanation of Spiritualist craze. Some burial customs mentioned, such as placing coins on the eyes.

Positive Messages

Just because something's strange doesn't mean it's not real. Everyone has magical and ordinary parts inside them. Being different isn't so bad. Sometimes you have to do things you don't like to survive; try not to think about it too much.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thomas, who's 12, is clever, obedient, and brave. He learns that the things about him that make him feel like he doesn't belong anywhere are actually the things that make him unique and able to accomplish what no one else can. Faery characters are good but enslaved and trying desperately to escape and go back to their own realm. Thomas' parents are tough and undemonstrative, a realistic parenting style of Victorian times, but they love Thomas and help him when he really needs it. They're grave robbers, but it's out of necessity and not by choice.

Violence & Scariness

Lots of talk about death, the afterlife, and ghosts. Blood's mentioned several times from cuts and injuries, but it's not described in detail. Faeries are enslaved and forced by the villain to perform a task that causes them great pain. A faery is trapped in chains and screams in pain. Thomas is choked by the villain once.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden, by Emma Trevayne (Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times), has a lot of talk about death, dead bodies, and the afterlife. Creepy cemeteries are important locations, and Thomas' family members earn their living robbing graves. Faeries trapped in the human world are enslaved and forced to channel the voices of the dead. A faery is chained up and screams in pain, and blood is mentioned a few times but not described in detail. Thomas is choked once by the villain.

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What's the story?

One night while out robbing graves with his father, 12-year-old Thomas digs up a body that looks exactly like him. Did Thomas have a twin brother he never knew about? Buried with the body are a mysterious note and tickets to see a show put on by Mordecai, who claims he can speak to the dead. To learn the truth about who he really is -- and who the boy who looks just like him was -- Thomas will have to outwit Mordecai and help free the faeries Mordecai has enslaved. But the last person who tried to open a gateway to the faery realm was killed in the attempt. Can Thomas find a way to save the faeries and survive?

Is it any good?

This creepy, faery fantasy has lots of chilling atmosphere and a plucky hero whom kids will relate to and enjoy rooting for. The dark side of Victorian London is nicely realized and populated with colorful characters, and the faeries add an intriguing fantasy element. Still, it lacks the charm and wonder of author Emma Trevayne's first book, Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, so the appeal isn't quite as broad.

Some transitions are abrupt and confusing, taking the reader out of the story while trying to figure out where the characters are or how they got there. But the plot of THE ACCIDENTAL AFTERLIFE OF THOMAS MARSDEN is well structured and moves briskly, keeping the pages turning, and kids who love a good ghost story will enjoy it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why fantasies are so popular. Why do we like them so much?

  • What do you think happens to people after they die? Do you believe in ghosts?

  • If you found a way into a magical fairy realm, would you stay there or come back home? Why doesn't Thomas stay with the faeries?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horror and ghost stories

Themes & Topics

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