The Sword Review, #7 (part 2), October 24, 2005

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"The Four Hundred and Twenty-Three" by Pam L. Wallace

"The Four Hundred and Twenty-Three" by Pam L. Wallace is creepy. This dark, Halloween-esque adventure is about a girl named Mouse who must survive in the shadowy tunnels underground after being chased away by a boy, Robin, who is after her as much as he’s after the book she carries. Luckily for Mouse—or maybe that’s unfortunately—she is not alone in these tunnels. It is here that she meets four hundred and twenty-three spiders who all see her as their mother, caring for her and keeping her safe. With their help, Mouse plans to escape and seek revenge on Robin.

Wallace writes the story with a clear vision of what she wants to happen; she opens up with an exciting chase scene, slowly introduces the slave-like spiders, shows Mouse’s turn to a darker side than we’d expect, and really goes for the shock factor in the end. It’s a revenge story at its heart. The story is paced well for how short it is, but I found that I had one irritating problem with "The Four Hundred and Twenty-three." Throughout the story, there are constant references to the book Mouse carries as well as her mother, yet we never learn enough about why Robin wants the book so badly.  All we hear him say is that Mouse failed to bring back her quota, but why then would a book make up for it? What was so truly special about it?

I wonder if Wallace has had any dramatic experiences with spiders because the ones she displays in this story are downright hair-raising. They crawl over Mouse’s body, speak to her, even play games with one another while catching anything worth eating in their webs. And it’s not just the spiders that eat what is caught for dinner.
"The Four Hundred and Twenty-three" is a gratifying piece that just needed a bit more space to flesh itself out. But if anything, visit this yarn to experience the spiders, the whole lot of them.