Some books grab you by the seat of your pants and drag you around until you turn the last page gasping for breath. Others are slow smoldering burn which sustains throughout with subtle twists and turns. William Sleator's book The Last Universe is a combination of both. It begins as a slow burn, building a plot which has some small shocks slipping a sense of intrigue under the reader’s radar. About half way through the book the tables turn. The reader suddenly finds a set of teeth clamped around their imagination and their pulse quickens.
The Last Universe is the story of a brother and sister who live in a house with a very odd garden. The oldest of the siblings (Gary) is sick and seems to be slowly dying. His sister Susan (the narrator) is healthy but tied to home in order to help her parents with her brother. Everyday Gary forces Susan to take him for walks in the garden. Susan dreads these walks because she finds the garden creepy. Once strange things begin to happen in the garden she become even more frightened, but Gary continues to force her to take him on these walks. He seems to know something about the garden which he is keeping from Susan.
As the story progresses the tension builds and the garden starts to change their lives in ways that are completely unpredictable. At this point in the book the pace of the plot starts to become breakneck.
Sleator handles the style of the writing in his usual straight forward fashion, but he once again proves why he is a master of young adult speculative fiction. While this one many not hit the heights of his first breakthrough The House of Stairs, the ideas and the general plot presented here are definitely worth the time and the money.