Greenglass House is a really charming middle-grade mystery that I’m glad to have read in winter: there are so many mentions of snow and ice and wind, and also of hot chocolate and indoor coziness, and it was satisfying to read all that wintry prose while curled up on the couch with my own mug of hot chocolate. At the start of the book, it’s just before Christmas, and Milo, who’s twelve, is ready for his usual winter break from school. His parents run a “smugglers’ hotel” called Greenglass House that’s usually empty at Christmastime. But the year in which the story takes place turns out to be anything but usual, and while Milo is initially annoyed to have his winter routines interrupted, he ends up making friends and solving mysteries and enjoying himself more than he would have thought possible.

I like Milford’s writing a lot, and I like her world-building. The world of this story isn’t ours, not exactly, but the differences are revealed gradually, in a way that I think works. Greenglass House, which is described as “a huge, ramshackle manor house that looked as if it had been cobbled together from discarded pieces of a dozen mismatched mansions collected from a dozen different cities,” sits high above Nagspeake, which has evocatively-named neighborhoods like the “Printer’s Quarter” and the “Quayside Harbors”, and bodies of water like the “Skidwrack River” and “Magothy Bay.” Nagspeake also, apparently, has a mail-order company that “would practically have a monopoly on goods coming into the city,” if it weren’t for those smugglers. Greenglass House is described as having a historic connection to smuggling, as well as a current one: its previous owner was a famed smuggler known as Doc Holystone, who’s still something of a folk hero even three decades after his death.

I also like the way that Milford works stories and storytelling into her narrative. Partly this is done through stories within the story: Milo ends up reading a book of folklore where the framing device is that people trapped in an inn due to floods tell stories to pass the time, and when Greenglass House’s guests are similarly trapped by snow and ice, he suggests they do some story-telling of their own. So we get bits of the stories Milo is reading, and we get the stories told by the guests. And we also get some storytelling-adjacent stuff in the form of a role-playing game that one of Milo’s new friends suggests they try as a way to solve the various mysteries that pop up: Milo’s never played any RPGs before, but as his new friend explains how he can develop a character and make choices about that character, he gets into it and starts to see how seeing things through the lens of the game (and the character he’s created) can change what he notices/pays attention to. The book also features family stories and family histories, which take on a particularly poignant feeling for Milo, who’s adopted and doesn’t know anything about his birth parents.

If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in this book, that’s because there is: I didn’t even mention the stained glass, or the pair of rival thieves, or the mystery of the word “Lansdegown”. But to me, all the things going on felt interesting and balanced, not like too much. And now I’m looking forward to reading Milford’s other books set in this world!

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