Twelve-year-old Kat Bateson and her younger siblings Rob and Amelie aren’t happy about leaving their home in London to attend Rookskill Castle Children’s Academy, but with the blitz, they really have little other choice. Almost as soon as they arrive, the children realize that something is amiss in the castle, and while logical Kat is almost certain that Lady Eleanor – who oversees the academy – is hiding a German spy, her siblings and the other children insist there is something otherworldly about the castle’s creepiness. Kat thought her great-aunt was crazy when she gifted her with a family heirloom she claimed could do magic…but now she’s not so sure.
I didn’t expect a story about British schoolchildren discovering magic in an old Scottish castle to be creepy, but I was definitely wrong! Magic and Scottish castles aside, this is more like a ghost story than a fantasy one, and should suit readers who appreciate eerie tales. Fox tells her story by alternating between the past and the present, shifting between Lady Eleanor’s past and Kat’s present, as she tries to figure out what keeps making children at Rookskill disappear. Together, the parallel storylines work to create both tension and a well-rounded villain.
But the best part of the book by far is Kat herself! With her talent at mathematics and penchant for fixing broken clocks, she reminds me of Hermione if Hermione had been allowed to be in charge of the Harry Potter narrative instead of Harry. She’s brave, logical, and determined to protect her friends and family at all costs. In fact, Kat’s cleverness and determination actually isolate her from the other children at Rookskill for a good portion of the book – they all think Kat is crazy for inviting the scorn of Lady Eleanor, and until so many children have gone missing that the problem is impossible to ignore, they refuse to help her figure out what’s going wrong. Kat’s isolation makes her story more fraught and compelling and really sets our heroine apart from those around her.
This story can stand alone, but there are enough threads left open that I hope we’ll get to see more of Kat in future installments!
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.