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BfK Middle/Secondary continued New talent The Clock of Stars 


Francesca Gibbons, illus Chris Riddell, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 978-0008355036, 496pp, £12.99 hbk


It’s always worth celebrating fresh new voices in fantasy writing and Francesca Gibbons’s debut novel A Clock of Stars reveals her to be an accomplished world builder, a dab hand at controlling plot and action, and the creator of a sparkling cast of characters, good and bad, who will enter readers’ hearts. It opens, as so many magical adventures do, with our heroes going through a door into another world. Eleven year old Imogen and her little sister Marie are perfectly normal children, squabbling and bickering with each other, and with the self-centredness typical of their age, but on the other side of a strange door in a tree, they will make friends, defeat enemies and thanks to their uncomplicated understanding of what is right and      themselves in danger the minute they arrive in the new world, chased by terrifying fanged monsters and saved at the last minute by a young boy who opens the doors of the city’s castle for them. He turns out to be young crown prince, Milo, a boy with problems of his own. The kingdom that he stands to inherit, Yaroslav, is divided and threatened by the skret, those fanged creatures, while his uncle/guardian is distracted, and the young woman set to become his aunt distinctly untrustworthy. If Imogen and Marie are going to   need help, lots of it, and not just from Milo, but from the people his family has persecuted and the skret


Then there is the physical presence               world. Meshing seamlessly with this        role of the bone-binder (marvellous creations made from bone animal and human), the magpies, the magic spring- the reader is spellbound.      and Ermin are both real and distinct; the adults though inevitably more shadowy are nevertheless presented as complex rather than one-dimensional. Young readers are presented with some of the dilemmas        can present. Harwood’s attractive contemporary


prose is enhanced


throughout by the page designs of Helen Crawford White, whose lovely cover design demands attention. FH


themselves who, it turns out, are not nearly as violent as they like to        allies points out, ‘It’s the monsters dressed as kings that you’ve really got to watch out for.’


Imogen, Marie and Milo make


for great central characters and the supporting cast of castle staff and guards, townspeople and magical creatures (moths and some huge rideable birds) is almost Dickensian for number of eccentrics. While there is much that’s very funny, there are genuinely chilling moments too, including a number of murders, and for all the magic a sense of the problems we face in our own world: the destruction of the environment, racism, bigotry, and corrupt people in power. At almost 500 pages it might seem off-putting for some readers, but the chapters are short and the vitality of the story-telling will keep those pages turning. All this and illustrations by Chris Riddell too. MMa


The Silent Stars Go By 


Sally Nicholls, Andersen, 225pp, 9781783449903, £12.99 hbk


Here is an author who makes writing look so easy it is as if each sentence is already perfectly formed even before it appears on the page. The story of young Margot, a 1918 vicar’s daughter who conceives a baby out of wedlock, is totally involving, with many readers probably skipping to the end well before time to make sure everything works out. But such is Nicholls’ skill any minor objections only swim to the surface after reaching the end of a novel so gripping that many will want to read it in one gulp. For example, we know a lot about


Margot because Sally Nicholls records her every thought and emotion to a degree that at times threatens


30 Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020


repetition. But other characters do not receive the same attention. Margot’s noble but dim former lover, thought to have been killed in the war and returning with no knowledge of his young son, too often talks in the Wodehouse ‘silly ass’ tradition. Her reverend father ‘nodding over his Trollope’ and her hard-working mother, who agrees to pass Margot’s child off as her own, are both stereotypes.


And while attitudes


towards the under-paid servants who keep the cold under-resourced vicarage going are authentically patronising it would have been nice if Doris and Edith had been given more of a voice themselves.


through a portal. After discovering that the mysterious, time-travelling crow, called Magpie of course, is a shared friend, the two children join forces in a race against time to warn       and save lives, including Glory’s own.  with memorable characters, an evocative setting, artistic descriptions, quirky dialogue, and a fast-paced plot full of twists and turns that will keep readers guessing right till the end. Friendship, love, skill, and courage are rewarded and readers who persist through the plot complexities of this unusual timeslip adventure will be rewarded with a satisfying resolution  moments along the way. SR


Wuthering Heights: A Retelling





Tanya Landman, Barrington Stoke, 96pp, 978-1-78112-937-1, £7.77 pbk


Nothing will alter the fact that Nicholls is a supremely competent writer.


She makes everything seem


effortless and assured, although her novel’s conclusion rather ducks out of solving the very problems that Margot had spent so much time previously worrying about. But perhaps her next story could come up with something more confrontational and urgent for our own times while also allowing readers more spaces in the narrative in which to make up their own minds. NT


Elsetime 


Eve McDonnell, Everything with Words, 316pp, 978 1 911427 17 9, £8.99 pbk


This imaginative debut novel combines historical adventure, time travel and fantasy to draw readers into its intriguing world. The story is set in the town of Inthington where the action moves between the years 1864 and 1928 and the plot is woven around the real life 1928 Great Flood of London in which 14 people drowned.


The twin stories of Glory


Bobbin, a feisty young jeweller with a wooden hand who is apprenticed to an exploitative shop keeper, and       treasures in the river mud and sees people’s emotions in colours, merge when Needle travels through time to 1928 after following his pet crow


Barrington Stoke can be relied on to support and develop readers and this novella is no exception. Its attractive cover, clear font and sturdy pages make the retelling of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights an appealing read. There is no condescension here -      with poetic imagery and the pace of the story is compelling. Varied sentence lengths control mood and atmosphere and the characters are vividly brought to life. Short chapters      reader on briskly but there is no sense of a rush through the story. Events are seen through Cathy’s


eyes and the power of her emotions is strikingly conveyed. The narrative feels raw but is never overwritten: it would be easy to drift into sentimentality or bathos, but Landman avoids these traps. There is, of course, little respite from the emotional heat of the story but the wild, unruly chidhood of Cathy and Heathcliff whirls its way across the moors in a more lighthearted innocence which Landman focuses on to give light and shade to the plot. Landman brings her own voice


to this classic: it never intrudes but instead selects and interprets. This would be an excellent purchase for a school or public library-well worth the  times. It is an excellent introduction to  literary greats. More, please! VR


The Monsters of Rookhaven 


Pádraig Kenny, illus Edward Bettison, Macmillan Children’s Books, 352pp, 978-1529050509, £12.99 hbk


Two children fall through a hole in the world and into a house full of monsters. It’s guarded by giant carnivorous plants and the residents range from the unsettling (Odd, given to appearing out of thin air; Uncle Enoch, dark haired, intimidating, winged), to the creepy (irritating,


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