Children's writer Siobhan Dowd died when she only had the idea for this fifth book; Ness has taken that idea and made of it both a classic tale and a tribute to her. Young Conor's mother is ill with cancer, and he is having nightmares regularly.
They take on a physical form when the yew tree he can see from his bedroom window assumes a human shape, and speaks to him. It tells him three stories – about a bad prince, a foolish parson and an invisible man – as Conor, who is being bullied at school, is estranged from his father and dislikes his grandmother, struggles to accept what is happening to his mother. Ness's fracturing of the family here in many different ways, and his lonely, alienated child-hero, gives his moving tale of death and loss a modern touch, whilst also endowing it with some much-needed fantasy.