Frances Hardinge is a true original. Her wildly unpredictable imagination ensures that any literary journey in her company is certain to be full of surprises. This current novel may well be her best. Britain during the Civil War makes for a dramatic enough setting in itself. But add to that an ancient family whose ghosts systematically occupy the bodies of each succeeding generation and the stage is set for something totally weird but also, because of the author’s skill and commitment, generally convincing at the same time.
Twelve-year-old Makepeace, the doughty heroine of this story, does not have an easy life, given she too has an interior ghost to contend with, in her case a dead bear (don’t ask!). Add to him the ghost both of a dead doctor and also of a newly deceased scheming member of her own, very dysfunctional family, you could wonder how Makepeace manages to stay in charge of such an unruly crew. But she does, showing all the traditional grit of so many other young people in children’s literature old and new l taking on themselves an important mission that must be completed. She is considerably aided here by a series of fortunate eavesdroppings but even so her courage is never in question. Happy the country that can still produce children’s literature with a positive message to tell and the means by which to do it without ever sounding preachy or insincere!
There are also memorable descriptions of what it was really like when the Puritans took on the King’s armies plus odd moments of genuine fine writing. Would any other author describe one particular old villain as ‘An ancient committee. A parliament of deathly rooks in a dying tree?’ Whatever the occasional mad moments in this long, convoluted but richly imagined work, somehow everything more or less comes clear by the end. Read, wonder and enjoy!