The Rats of Hamelin, a genre-crossing book best classified as historical fantasy, mixes history and mystery in a tale springboarding from the legend of the Pied Piper.
For those not familiar with the original tale—made famous by the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning—the Pied Piper was a musician who rid the German village of Hamelin of its rats and then lured away its children when the mayor refused to pay the piper his fee.
Fast forward several hundred years.
The year is now 1284, and rats have returned to Hamelin, called back by the tune of a rogue piper. Johannes, an apprentice piper, receives the task of clearing the vermin out.
Johannes, alternately called Hannes in the book, is sure he'll be welcomed in Hamelin, and thinks he’ll be able to rid the town of its rodent problem with minimal effort. But Hamelin loathes pipers and doesn't want him around.
Before Johannes gets to the village, he's ambushed by bandits and left for dead. Klara Hofmann, beautiful daughter of Hamelin’s mayor, rescues and nurses him back to health, but resents his uninvited presence in her town.
Mr. Bauer, vice-mayor of Hamelin, wants Johannes gone as well, but for personal reasons. Only one man, Roth Kunst, seems eager to help. But he, like the others, has his own agenda.
Fantasy stories have the unique ability to carry reader imaginations into mystical, unknown lands, as long as the reader is able to suspend disbelief and enter the imaginary world.
Unfortunately that's difficult to do in this book. The story's beginning is an "I remember when" sequence that drags at a snail’s pace. Though the setting is a medieval one, there is too much twenty-first century dialogue to sustain the illusion. The Pipers Guild and the Pipeworld are introduced, but never fully explained. We find very little to admire in the weak, self-serving Johannes.
One of the strangest and least appealing parts of this tale is the pipers’ “web”, in which Johannes uses his music to grab the “strings” of people’s minds and exert his mind control over them.
In a disturbing, mind-reading scene more plausible for a Jedi master in a horror flick than a medieval musician in a fairy tale, Johannes enters the rogue piper Anselm's mind, and explores Anselm’s thoughts, feelings and memories. This scene continues with walls exploding, and a mattress flying through the air, carried by the power of the piper, while the rogue piper screams and Johannes invades his soul.
The back cover of this book states, "The Rats of Hamelin blends history and fantasy to reshape the hazy legend of the pied piper." Unfortunately, the haziness remains. Lack of plot clarity, an unappealing lead character, dark mind-control scenes, and little spiritual take-away make it difficult for us to recommend this book.
Click here to learn more about The Rats of Hamelin by Adam and Keith McCune