by Janet Fox
First sentence: “It is 1863.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: March 15, 2016
Content: There’s some scary imagery, and the narrative is a bit confusing. I’d give it to a precocious 3rd grader, but definitely 4th and up. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.
At first glance (at least for me), this looks like a kind of off-beat historical fiction. It’s the middle of WWII, and the children in London are being sent out to the countryside in order to escape the bombing. Kat and her siblings Robbie and Amelie are among those kids sent away, in this case to a castle in Scotland where a boarding school of sorts has been set up.
But things aren’t always what they seem. Including this book.
Rookskill Castle is a dark place (and not just because fall in Scotland is dreary), and the lady of the castle is up to something. Kat is sensible and practical, and not at all inclined to believe that what it going on could be dark magic.
I loved this book, with reservation. On the one hand, the story was compelling — by the end, I was flying through it — and I adored Kat. She was practical, mechanically-minded and good at math, all things you don’t usually get from fantasy heroines. She was also willing to admit when she’s scared, and the boys were mostly willing to support her in the decisions that had to be made.
However, I have issues when I know more than the characters. Fox flits back and forth through time, from WWII backwards to the mid-1800s, in order to give the reader the backstory of the castle. I’m not the most careful reader, and so I was able to piece things together before the characters did. I’ll admit it kind of heightened the tension — I wanted Kat to figure things out before they got too bad — but I was also annoyed that it took her so long. In the end, I found I didn’t mind so much, but it did niggle at the back of my mind while I was reading,.
The magic, however, was great. I loved the way Fox wove good vs. dark magic, and how it was a very practical sort of magic as well. That much — plus the general, overall creepiness — definitely nakes the book worth reading.