#MGTakesOnThursday – A Sprinkle of Sorcery

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the second book about the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and it’s a series I can’t recommend highly enough.

You can read my review of book one, A Pinch of Magic, here and their most recent adventure, A Tangle of Spells, here.

The sisters make for perfect protagonists – each markedly different to each other, squabbling in a supremely sisterly way, but all fiercely loyal and protective of each other.

Which is lucky, because when Charlie is kidnapped, it’s up to Betty and Fliss to save her.

This is an adventure story like no other – with more than a pinch of magic (see what I did there?!) this is also part ghost story, part piratical adventure, part quest.

As with all the books in this series, it draws exceptionally well on fairytale, myth and legend and their unwritten rules and tropes. Enchanted objects, an old crone who can help or hinder, wells and wishes come face to face with lost islands, fearsome pirates, maps, old sea tales and treasure hunters.

It is a story with love, loyalty and family writ large against a fast-paced, spooky, magical and hugely exciting adventure.

If you don’t know these books yet, you need to add them to your pile pronto.

My favourite quote from page 11:

“Set upon bleak, drizzly marshes and overlooked by a vast prison, Crowstone wasn’t a place people came to unless they had to.”

This book in three words:

Sisters. Pirates. Magic.

A Tangle of Spells

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. However, I also bought my own finished copy and all views and opinions are my own.

A Tangle of Spells by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the third book following the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and we join them as they move out of The Poacher’s Pocket (family home and pub) with their father and Granny, and sail across to Pendlewick to set up home there.

However, despite its sunshine-and-light exterior, something’s wrong in Pendlewick.

Between their crooked new home (adorned with salt, silver coins and secrets), The Hungry Tree that no-one dares venture near, sinister-sounding Tick Tick Forest, whispers of witches and a blanket ban on talk of magic (after all, “magic and trouble go hand in hand”) the sisters find themselves once again caught up in a web of witchcraft and danger.

I love this series.

I may have definitely left it way too long between books one and two, but it’s been wonderful to read A Sprinkle of Sorcery and A Tangle of Spells back to back (I only wish I’d gone back to reread A Pinch of Magic first!) If you’ve not yet read the others – start at the very beginning! My mini review of A Pinch of Magic is here.

It’s lovely to see how the three sisters have grown and their relationship strengthened following their previous adventures, while at the same time they haven’t changed a bit and remain the chalk-and-cheese, ever-bickering, doggedly loyal trio they’ve always been.

Each reader will no doubt have their own favourite sister; I think though that pipe-smoking, whiskey-sipping (OK, whiskey-downing) Granny has to be my favourite character throughout this series though. Tough, real and utterly believable, she’s just such a comforting presence in her own no-nonsense way.

I also really like the way the three stories all draw on folktales, superstition and magic but in such very different ways. Each has a different setting, feel and twist to it… But I think this might just be my favourite yet – it is packed to the crooked rafters with witchcraft, charms, superstitions and spells.

Take the eeriest elements of your favourite fairy tales and you have the flavour of this book. It is wonderfully, darkly atmospheric and the imagination and realisation of the world and its magic are second to none; I can’t share my favourite things with you for risk of spoiling them for you, but I will just say that amongst many things here, a particularly cobweb-filled room will linger in my imagination for some time to come.

Magic aside (well, sort of, just momentarily), there is (as there is in all the books) a tangible sense of urgency, danger and tension too that will draw in the fantasy-fearing, adventure-lover and win them over too! The rescue attempt is so exciting and I loved how it took us back to the girls’ first adventure too.

The baddies are brilliant. And that is pretty much all I can say on the matter in order to avoid spoiling the story for you. But they’re malevolent and menacing in all the best ways, with a power and influence that’s terrifying.

This is a truly outstanding magical adventure. Overflowing with fairytale and folklore, hearsay and local legend, witchcraft and wiles, not to mention the fantastic Widdershins family, it had absolutely everything I could have wanted in a book and I completely devoured it.

I am BEYOND THRILLED to hear…theres going to be another Widdershins adventure and it cannot come soon enough!

#MGTakesOnThursday – Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!


To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat, published by Simon & Schuster


A heart-warming tale of adjusting to family change, and navigating a parent coming out as gay.

The friendships and family relationships in the book are strong and caring, which is lovely to read. Even the relationship between Archie’s mum and dad feels realistic but hopeful, as they argue and fight and cry and try to figure it all out, but nevertheless try to support each other and mostly, however awkwardly, support Archie.

This is not just a book which celebrates diversity (which it does, with bells on) but normalises it. For those children who find themselves here when they’ve not seen themselves in books before, there’s so much reassurance, positivity and affirmation.

For those to whom this is unfamiliar, it’s a great way to see the lives and experiences of others. To stop them seeming so ‘other’. To see the similarities not the differences.

The reactions of those around Archie – his best friends and babysitter for example – and maybe even more interestingly, his reaction to their (non)reactions, are great in the way they show such acceptance.

I’ll be honest though, I sometimes found the main characters’ actions and perceived knowledge or ‘worldliness’ (or lack of) a bit off and I didn’t love them. But, I didn’t dislike them either, and I did really like all the adult characters, who I found more believable. I suspect the younger readers this is aimed at would get on with them better and it’s definitely just a personal thing, and not something which would stop me from highly recommending the book overall.

The way it balances humour and real life will make it hugely appealing to young readers and its LGBTQ+ themes and the way it explores them openly, sensitively and with such joy and positivity makes it a really important book to get into young readers’ hands.

And I absolutely LOVED the descriptions of pride and the pride family reuniting the following year.

Peapod ‘enjoying’ his first Manchester Pride with our Pride family in 2019!

We go to Manchester pride every year, with an ever expanding pride family made up of so many people we’ve met there year to year, and now our children too. So these descriptions of Pride and how special it is felt so real and brought joy to my heart (it also has me yearning for our next gay Christmas!)


The beginnings of our Pride family at our first Pride together in 2009 and meeting up ahead of our most recent one ten years later (though our numbers have grown since then!)

My favourite quote from page 11 331

I’m cheating a bit this week (sorry Mary!) and I’ve chosen one of my favourite quotes about Pride as these were the parts of the book I really loved best.

Pride is all about family, both the ones you’re given and the ones you make.”


This book in three words:

Pride. Family. Positivity.

Melt

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own

Melt by Ele Fountain, cover art by unknown, published by Pushkin

This isn’t actually out til April, but hit that pre-order button as it’s one you won’t want to miss!

I always enjoy Ele’s books (you can read my reviews of Boy 87 and Lost here and here.) I’m always impressed with her ability to pack so much into such relatively short adventures (surely she’s got to do Barrington Stoke at some point??)

Quick reads they may be but the characters have depth, the settings are immersive and the plots are full of tension and heart-stopping moments. Melt was no exception.

And like her other books, there’s an environmental awareness and a touch of social commentary running through it, as we come face to face with eroded traditions and dying ways of life, melting ice caps and vanishing animals, and unscrupulous companies with greed at their heart.

As ever though, these are brilliantly threaded through the story – they enhance and give roots to the adventure rather than eclipsing it. As do the themes of friendship, family and learning from other times, places and people that we see explored too.

Set in the Arctic Circle and told from the dual narratives of Bea and Yutu, who find themselves unexpectedly thrown together to brave both elements and enemies, this is a thrilling story of survival.

Yutu lives with his grandma in a remote Arctic village. He’s desperate to follow in family tradition and hunt so sneaks away one weekend to prove himself capable. But the ice has been melting faster than he knew and with a sudden blizzard on the way, he finds himself in trouble…

Bea meanwhile lives in a busy town but has few friends thanks to always being on the move with her dad’s job. She joins her dad, who is a geologist for a big oil company, on a work trip to the area near Yutu’s home but when they arrive things are not quite what they seem and danger is waiting…

And so Bea and Yutu find themselves helping each other, on the run in perilous conditions.

I loved the way Bea and Yutu helped each other, learned from each other, gave each other confidence and courage and ultimately, of course, became friends. But I think Yutu’s grandmother, Miki, was my favourite character. And on both sides, it was nice to see present, supportive adults around.

The Arctic setting is stunningly portrayed, it is beautiful but equally unforgiving and the cold settled into my bones as I read. It was the perfect setting for this tense, fast-paced and thought-provoking thriller.

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Good Thieves

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week I’ve chosen a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages but only just got round to. It’s really been one of those “how have I let it go so long before reading this?” reads too, so I wanted to share it with you!

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Matt Saunders, Cover Art by Marie-Alice Harel, audiobook read by Margaret Cabourn-Smith, published by Bloomsbury

I’d forgotten how much I love Katherine Rundell’s books, but this drew me straight in and reminded me if what a brilliant writer she is; surely one of the finest MG authors around today.

She has such a way with words, especially in the way she makes it do thoroughly readable but also uses such carefully selected, effective and exciting language. Her stories leap from the page and this is no exception.

A brilliantly fast-paced heist featuring a classic ‘odd ball gang’ comprising a knife-thrower, animal tamer, acrobat and pick pocket; the group fizz with energy – feisty and strong, with a hefty dose of attitude.

Similarly, the setting of gritty, grimy, glamorous and downright dangerous prohibition era New York oozes cool and demands drama.

This is a wild and exciting ride in which the action never lets up. I can’t recommend it enough!

And I should also add that I listened to the audiobook which was fantastically narrated too, so I’d highly recommend that as well if audiobooks are your thing!

My favourite sentence from page 11:

A strange man with two guard dogs came out of the caretaker’s cottage and pointed a rifle at him.

This book in three words:

Action. Attitude. Adventure.

Adventures on Trains – Murder on the Safari Star

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Adventures on Trains: Murder on the Safari Star by M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, published by Macmillan

This is the third installment in what has fast become one of my favourite middle grade mystery series, Adventures on Trains.

If you’ve not already read the first books (The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on The California Comet), the series centres on Hal who accompanies his Uncle Nat, a travel writer and train enthusiast, on amazing train journeys.

However, they seem to have a knack of landing themselves in the centre of it all as each journey sees a crime committed, with Hal (ably aided by friends on board and his uncle) combining sketching and sleuthing to solve the cases!

Each book can easily be read as a stand alone (but I promise you’ll want to go back and read the others straight after you finish!), with a completely new case, train and supporting cast each time. You can read my reviews of the first books here and here.

Here, we rejoin Hal and his Uncle Nat as they embark on another train ride of a lifetime, this time journeying through South Africa and Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls at Zambia’s border.

The African landscape they travel through and the wildlife they see, both from the train and on safari, really enhance the book, as do Elisa Paganelli’s wonderful illustrations.

There’s also a nice environmental theme running through this, with issues of smuggling, hunting and conservation highlighted. It would be perfect for fans of Lauren St John or Jess Butterworth who maybe haven’t tried this series yet.

So, in some ways, this very different setting gives it a very different vibe to the previous two. However, Leonard and Sedgman are a formidable writing duo who manage to keep it feeling very much in their style and in keeping with the earlier books too.

This is the perfect blend – it keeps it fresh and different, offers up new areas of interest, locations and themes, but ultimately you feel at home – I knew what to expect and was not disappointed!

From the get go, as we join Hal’s family on Christmas morning (which felt just as it should be for them; his dad was spot on!), there’s a warm and gentle tone set – yes, there’s crimes to solve, but there’s a security and light-heartedness too.

Then there’s his Uncle Nat’s unwavering support for, and their open discussion of, Hal’s on board sleuthing. I know I mention this after every book, but I make no apologies as it’s so refreshing to see this adult-child dynamic in a story rather than the missing, dead, cruel or stupid adults we often see.

And let’s not forget the level of detail and passion shown for the trains themselves. Carefully researched and cleverly dripped into the text through Nat’s experience and Hal’s interest in them and sketches, it never feels like an information dump but by the end of the book, we’ve found out all about the train they travel on, its history, route and features. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I’d never have considered myself interested in trains but I’m always fascinated by what I find out in this series!

You can also expect a brilliant mix of characters on board in each book, including Hal’s new partner in crime (detection), in this case Winston…and his pet mongoose!

As ever, the characters/suspects were a great mix from the loathsome to the lovely to the famous and the fun. And of course, there’s suspicion and motive aplenty amongst them!

Like in the previous books, Hal’s sketches (courtesy of Elisa) are his means to documenting and solvimg the case, providing us with diagrams and sketches to aid the solving of te case. These are brilliant and complement the text so well.

I reached Hal’s initial sketch of the passengers as they gather at the start of the journey, present in every book, with proper tingles of excitement – “here we go!” – ready for another mystery to begin.

Because, of course, with young detective Hal and his Uncle aboard, this could never be an ordinary train ride! Helped by new friend Winston, Hal sets out on the trip convinced there’s a crime to solve, but even he couldn’t have foreseen the classic locked door murder he’s faced with!

As ever, I really enjoyed the solving of the case – I had my (correct) suspicions from early on but couldn’t piece them together to make it fit or figure out the hows, wheres and whys of it all so seeing the pieces slowly start to fall into place and Hal put it all together, well, I was glued to it!

I always enjoy the way the motives are explored in this series too; they never justify the crimes, but there’s a level of understanding there, they never feel senseless. This one in particular feels really well done, but I can’t say any more on that!

And of course, there was the obligatory musically themed chapter title for chapter eight, which I’ve now come to look forward to spotting in each one! (chapter 25 gave me a giggle too!)

I can’t recommend this series highly enough – fast-paced, fun and full of mystery, they are hugely gripping and entertaining reads and I am already eagerly awaiting book four which (from the teaser at the end of this) sounds like it’ll be amazing!

Believathon 3 – Orion Lost

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm, artwork by, published by Nosy Crow

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Shadow – Read a book first published in 2020.

Spaceship Orion is taking a crew from Earth to settle and start a new colony in space. However, when one of its ‘jumps’ goes wrong, all the adults are stuck in their sleeping state and it’s up to a crew of children, who don’t always see eye to eye, to try and get a badly damaged ship past space pirates, unknown alien (Videshi) ships to safety.

Things become more complicated when the children gradually realise something’s amiss, but can they get to the bottom of it and put it right?

I’ll be honest, I’m not a sci-fi fan and this did not sound like my cup of tea at all and, despite knowing lots of fellow bookish people had loved it, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

But I thought it was BRILLIANT. One of the most unique and original MG books I’ve read in recent years.

Whatever my personal reservations, I had been pleased to see a slice of Sci-fi entering the MG world as it felt like there was a real gap to fill and, although I’m no expert, I thought this filled that gap splendidly.

It was full of technical details and language that fans of the genre/space will appreciate, and that give it a sense of authenticity and authority. But, and it’s an important but, its cleverly done so that total newcomers to the genre who don’t speak science (ie me) could not only follow what was happening, but become completely immersed and invested in it.

The characters, and their relationship with each other – particularly the difference, conflict and contrast between Beth and Vihaan – had a lot to do with this. There was a really good mix of personalities which worked really well together and Beth was a particularly likeable and believable main character (and also a handy way to get my head round the more technical aspects of the book as they were explained to her too!)

I really liked the way Beth and Vihaan showcased between them the qualities of a good leader, and the way the novel examined what this was and the balance it needed.

What I also really enjoyed about this book though was the perfectly plotted mystery that gradually developed, subtly at first, creeping up on us a little clue at a time, until we reached a hugely tense and dramatic climax.

Although I did have a couple of correct inklings early on, I didn’t come close to piecing the whole thing together and it really kept me guessing the way the best mysteries do.

I’ll probably never be a true sci-fi fan, but I would absolutely jump on the next novel from Alastair Chisholm so if that counts as being converted, consider me a convert! This was great!

Believathon 3 – The Mask of Aribella

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Chain – Read a book with a colourful cast of characters, and it was certainly an excellent choice for that prompt!

Our main character, Aribella, discovers she can shoot fire from her fingertips and, after narrowly escaping the Palace guards after they raid her home and arrest her dad, finds herself taken in by fellow Caannovaccis – masked Venetians who protect the city using their special powers – speaking to animals, walking through walls, reading minds and/or stars and moving or creating objects with their minds…and more. So, yes, colourful!

Honestly, I was a little uncertain going into this. I thought it might be a bit superhero heavy for me, but it wasn’t at all. There’s enough to hook a superhero fan but it doesn’t feel like a typical superhero story.

Instead it’s more of a mystery with a dash of history and a dollop of magic and fantasy thrown in for good measure. And that is right up my street!

The setting of Venice is wonderful. In a serendipitous turn of events, I started this just as I was coming to the end of Katherine Woodfine’s Villains in Venice, which had already seen me captivated by the city, but it was here that I was truly transported there and enamoured by it.

Anna Hoghton’s writing is rich in detail and steeped in the history of the place and its culture and customs. I couldn’t get enough; I was ready to jump straight on a plane!

The characters themselves are likeable and their powers bring a good mix of the light-hearted and the dramatic. There’s some unfortunate sleepwalking mishaps, singed tablecloths and uncommunicative cats, but there’s also a strong message of believing in yourself and some tense and exciting saving of the day.

The mystery element of the book is perfectly plotted and paced too. There’s plenty of intrigue, secrets and uncertainty along with creeping doubts and wariness about just which characters to trust and what was really going on.

As an adult who’s familiar with the genre, I did figure out a fair bit of it, but even so there were things I didn’t see coming and I really liked the way the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ and ‘whos’ were gradually revealed.

A thoroughly enjoyable mystery adventure, with an exciting and original slant in its masked protectors, this has strong messages of friendship, courage and being yourself and embracing your differences.

Believathon 3 – Orphans of the Tide

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Dagger – Read a book with a dangerous setting. With hindsight, I’m not sure I’d choose this for that prompt, but it fits a couple of other rooms too, notably The Footprints – read a book with a prominent villain.

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac, published by Puffin

I’d heard a lot about how great this was but knew very little about the story itself, but you can’t fail to be pulled straight in when a book begins with a whale ‘beached’ on a rooftop with a boy emerging from its stomach, with only a young inventor brave and quick-witted enough to go up there and help him.

I was hooked immediately.

Ellie (our young inventor) is a typically great female lead – clever, loyal, determined, a little impulsive and with a mind that’s always whirring. I really loved the descriptions of her chaotic workshop; they painted a perfect picture of her and I wanted to spend hours in there looking at all her drawings, half-hatched plans, interesting finds and unfinished creations.

Ellie lives and works in The City – the last city on earth, jutting precariously over the sea, everywhere else destroyed by The Enemy in The Great Drowning that saw the other cities and islands wiped out.

The Enemy returns sporadically, each time claiming a new Vessel to work through and each time claiming more lives.

When Seth emerges from inside the whale (with no idea who or where he is), the other residents of The City are convinced he is The Vessel and set about trying to capture and kill him before The Enemy can use him to return.

Ellie, however, is determined to save him and so begins the darkest, most perilous game of Cat and Mouse you’ve ever seen as Ellie and Seth (aided begrudgingly by Ellie’s best friend Anna) attempt to hide from and outwit The City’s Inquisitors.

Everyone lives in fear of The Enemy and The Vessel and the sense of mass panic, hysteria and tension they create in The City is palpable and all too believable.

I have to confess that the way rumour, fear and alarm spreads through the residents, and the authoratitve, powerful nature of The Inquisitors in charge had me convinced this book was going to take a different path.

However, the route it actually took was brilliant and took me an embarrassing amount of time to cotton on to (I’d guessed at certain things but hadn’t put two and two together!)

And this is, of course, thanks in no small part to the excellent writing and the way it somehow manages to keep up a relentless pace and tension, but also to drip feed information and gradually unfold. The use of old diary entries especially was really effective.

Likewise, our characters feel like they never stop; always on the run, hiding or plotting and planning with wolves at the door. And yet, somehow we’re given time to really get to know them, to explore their back stories, their feelings and their relationships. They have both urgency and depth. And there is space to sensitively explore themes of grief, loss and friendship too.

The setting itself is perfect, managing to feel all at once like a historical town – all cobbles and towers and terraces and alleys, all markets and gossip and hangings; a remote coastal Isle in winter – all wind-swept, salt-sprayed, freezing cold edges; and a dark dystopian future.

It’s a perfect setting for the book, all dark corners, precarious heights, shadows and crashing waves. Matched with Manuel Sumberac’s atmospheric illustrations, the formidable Inquisitors and the absolutely terrific Enemy it all comes together to create a gloriously dark fantasy.

And I’ll leave with a word on The Enemy itself – What. A. Villain. Marvellously evil, it is brilliantly drawn.

Overall, this is a tense and twisting fantasy with a brilliantly dark setting and an even darker Enemy.

Believathon 3 – A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Crown – Read a book set in an alternate world to our own, but it fits a couple of other rooms too, notably The Flash of Lightning – Read a book which incorporates folktales.

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth by Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell, published by Harper Collins

First things first – just look how gorgeous this book is! And it has all the added extras that make a physical book, especially a hardback one like this, feel really special – a map (have I mentioned before maybe just once or twice how much I LOVE a map in a book?!), an illustrated cast of characters and a gorgeous, classy cover under its equally appealing, magical jacket, not to mention the fantastic illustrations throughout.

When people moan about the price of physical books or buying hardbacks, it’s books like this one that highlight why its worth it. This is a beautiful object to hold and read, to keep, to return to and treasure, and you’re drawn into the story’s magic as soon as you see it.

Which is a wonderful thing, because let me tell you this story’s magic is truly something.

With echoes of Narnia (I know, everyone is saying that but I can’t help it – it’s true) and the traditional fairytales we all know, more than a sprinkling of the Slavic, plus a dose of modern life in our main characters, their sibling rivalries and their feelings towards mum’s new man, this is a fabulous start to a new fantasy MG series.

With dark forests inhabited by monstrous Skret, mysterious doors in trees, a soothsaying clock, moths as guides and keys, a lonely crown prince and a villainous queen-to-be…not to mention a wizened royal advisor, a brawny hunter (with more than a touch of Disney’s Gaston about him!), tall castle towers, quests, rivalries, a huge wooden dragon… and of course treasures, tricks, treason and traps – this is a book fizzing with fairytale know-how, characters and traditions that still somehow manages to be completely it’s own tale.

And what a tale.

Sisters Imogen and Marie follow a moth through a secret door in a tree deep in the gardens of Mrs Haberdash’s tea rooms (incidentally, how great is the name Mrs Haberdash?!)

Stepping out into another world they find themselves facing imminent danger from the shrieking beasts that are terrorising a city locked up from dusk, their houses covered in Skret bones and skulls in an effort to deter them.

What a setting to step into! It felt steeped in history and you just knew it had a tale or two to tell. I loved the description (and visual depiction!) of the bone clad buildings locked and silent – slightly chilling, suggestive of strange customs and traditions and ultimately very atmospheric and mysterious.

Luckily – as bells chime ominously for night fall, beasts bay and with not a soul in sight – the girls are whisked into the safety of the castle by Miroslav, the lonely prince who lives there with his uncle, who has reined since Miro’s parents were killed. He agrees to help them find their way home but of course this is easier said than done…

What follows is a tale of two halves (well, more really…even though that’s impossible) We see Imogen and Marie desperately trying to find a way home, with hot-headed, bossy, big sister Imogen reflecting on her relationship with Marie and with their mum as she does, and growing so much as a person too.

But we also see Miro’s story. Miro himself is a great character. At first seeming obvious and straightforward, we realise there’s a complexity to him and his story over time (likewise his uncle who is nowhere near as likeable but proves that there’s more to people than the traditional storybook good and evil).

As the children enlist the help of hunters, avoid royal guards and befriend ckockmakers and as they journey deep into the forest to face the Skret, we also find out the story of his town, Yaroslav, and the nearby forest, its divisions and troubles.

We hear about the forest-dwelling Skret, the way they turned on the town and the way monsters aren’t always those who at first appear monstrous. We’re told the fable of Sertze Hora – the heart of the mountain – sacred to them and to the balance of life in the forest. We see the disparity between the city’s ‘native’ mesto and the lesni who have fled the forest that was their home (I loved the tree houses!) as its now longer safe and sought sanctuary in the city, only to find it prejudiced against them.

All of these are bound together in the children’s quest bringing depth to the tale and questions, thoughts and observations on human nature, togetherness and society that are just as relevant to us in the here and now as in a make-believe, storybook town.

Meanwhile, there’s also a witch’s prophecy and a spectacularly despicable ‘spare mother’ to consider (including a brilliant Snow White-esque scene).

Anneshka is a character and a half and I loved to hate her. She is the perfect wicked villain of the piece with the hapless King’s ear and beauty on her side (of course). She is utterly brilliant and I loved how her tale ended here (I can’t say anymore for fear of spoilers!)

And I can’t possibly leave out the one-eyed clock maker and his mysterious clock and other creation. SO GOOD! He may only be on the sidelines, but I’d put money on us seeing more from him in future books… If The Miniaturist made clocks in children’s books…

And in all of this, there’s a humour and an energy and a sense of adventure and exploration and a heart that keeps everything from feeling too dark dangerous, that brings a moth-like glimmer of hope to the doom and gloom and despair, that reassures us of the glorious small comforts of home despite the homesickness and new-found freedoms.

It keeps us grinning and has our hearts in our mouths as the children swoop off on velecours (giant birds), and race toboggan-style helter-skelter down an icy mountain path. It reminds us of the joy and warmth of home and family and friendship.

In short, I loved this. It was imaginative and real. It drew heavily on fairytale and folkloric tradition and created something unique and exciting. It was a story of courage, both bold and public, and quiet and personal.

It was exciting and adventurous and I absolutely cannot wait for book two!