The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Janet Fox is a writer-friend I met while in the debut novelist marketing group, Class of 2k8, and then again at Vermont College. This is the first novel of hers I've treated myself to.
And what a treat! Part mystery, part paranormal, part thriller.
Basic premise: It's WW II and the Blitz is full on in England. Kat, Rob, and Ame are sent to live at a castle-turned-school in the Scottish highlands, while their mother weathers out the war in London, and their father is deployed to spy for the British on the continent. The castle-turned-school is run by The Lady, who isn't all she appears. She has lived for hundreds of years, collecting magic via the souls she steals from children. She only needs a few more to be immortal. Hence, the school. Yet, for each child's soul she takes, she loses a part of herself, turning more and more into an automaton. One of the teachers she employs is a secret German spy. Kat and Peter, an American sent to the school too, discover the spy and work to stop him. Time, however, is short. A different child disappears each day. And soon, the core of children fighting the spies and the witch fall prey to her magic. Until only Kat is left with the seemingly insurmountable task of defeating them all.
I can hear an editor saying, "This is a very ambitious project." And yet Fox pulls it off...I won't say effortlessly because anyone who has spilled a little ink knows just how hard writing is...marvelously. This is multiple character, genre mashing done well.
You know how Scooby and Shaggy are always saying "It's a witch! It's a witch!" (Or, is that Monty Python...) And then Thelma, Daphne and Fred prove it isn't a witch. It's the cook! Secretly, I was always pulling for Scooby and Shaggy. Just once, I wanted the witch to be, well, a witch.
I've finally gotten my comeuppance. This time magic is real and the witch is a witch. What's more, she's dangerous. So are the spies. And they are very real, too. Basically, there is something for camp Shaggy and Scooby and camp Thelma in this story.
Fox chooses an omniscient third POV to relay her story, arguably the only voice that could work, unless the writer were to use first person going from character to character, which seems a lot more cumbersome than omniscient third, given the host of characters. Her deft use of the voice reminds me of Susan Cooper's use of the same POV in a similar story, The Boggart. They are both excellent examples of how to use third person POV well.
I was charmed by The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. It's an entertaining, solid read. It also got me thinking. There are many similar objects and storylines in the piece that suffuse middle grade at present - automatons (steampunk), World War II, magic, England, the lone girl heroine. It makes me wonder where the field will go next. These themes have been incorporated into some incredibly creative conceits. But conceits, plural. See: Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, The Boggart, Code Name Verity, How I Live Now, The War that Saved my Life. Is it time to go in a new direction? Are there stories buried in the deeper folds of history that aren't being told, or haven't been told in a while? Although I say that, indeed, all of the books listed above are on my Kindle. So perhaps it's me. Still, I may go a'diggin'...
I review books that surprise me, jar me, make me think. They are books I've bought, borrowed from the library, or been given as a gift. I do accept ARCs, but will only review a book if it moves me. It's about the writing. If I'm moved, I pass it on in a review.