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This issue’s cover illustration by Ralph Steadman is from Garibaldi’s Biscuits published this month by Andersen Press (978 1 84270 860 6, £10.99 hbk). Ralph Steadman is interviewed by Martin Salisbury. Thanks to Andersen Press for their help with this November cover.
Rayne feels trapped by her life on her East London estate, played out to a soundtrack of wailing police sirens, howling babies, and music pounding from open windows. Gangs prowl the summer streets. Her GCSEs are fine, and she could stay on – but for what? Helping her mum look after her baby brother in the flat and evenings down the pub by the canal, tagging along as ‘Damian Hunter’s girlfriend’? It’s not enough, and her bid for freedom, by way of an internet ad, leads her to a mysterious gothic pile in Deepest Herefordshire. Serving teas to the visitors is fine, but in the silence of the night Rayne is convinced something nasty lurks about the corridors and shrubberies of Morton’s Keep.
So it’s a relief for Rayne to fall in with smooth Sinjun (sic) and his smart friends in nearby Marcle Lees. His kisses ‘made Damian look like an amateur’. At one level this is a tale of teenage angst, two-timing, dressing up for hot dates and the excitement of will-he/won’t-he? and do-I-want-him-to-anyway? sexual discovery. Beneath the froth, though, are undercurrents of sadistic practices deep within the house’s history. Seductive Sinjun turns out to have something of the vampire about him, driven by the notion that ‘Beauty is Cruel and Cruelty is Beautiful’, and Rayne finds herself the victim of a group no longer restrained by reason. We may never doubt that Rayne, like most protagonists of YA novels, will emerge more aware of what she wants and who she is becoming; but her escape from Sinjun and his acolytes is satisfyingly melodramatic as, to the rescue, rides Good Old Reliable Ethan, a local lad as true as an oak in the nearby forest, offering more than a hint of a happier romance ahead for Rayne.