Arthur Bannister is a boy of 14 years. For reasons initially unstated Arthur has to leave his London school. Out of the blue, Arthur is awarded a scholarship to a boarding school named Shiverton Hall. His mother is surprised but pleased by the news.
The school turns out to be a Gothic heap with a very spooky aura. George Grant, Arthur’s new pal, has a grandfather who wrote the history of the school and George is quick to inform Arthur that there is such a thing as the Shiverton Curse. Arthur is sceptical, but before long weird events start undermining his certainty.
The Shiverton Curse takes a form designed to alarm the imaginative child. If a child had an imaginary friend, that friend would appear in the child’s nightmares, prompting the child in the waking world to undertake wildly perilous tasks like climbing up trees and out of windows.
This is Hogwarts meets Stephen King’s The Shining. The remainder of the book is devoted to the quest undertaken by Arthur and George, to set the imaginary friends to rest and to understand the relevance of Arthur’s personal history to the curse.
The characters of Arthur, George and their housemaster Mr Toynbee (a figure strongly reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore) are instantly credible and likeable. The atmosphere of a mixed gender boarding school is credibly maintained. The facilities seem pretty costly compared with a normal comprehensive, but then in schools of this type they very often are. The book includes chapters quoted from the school history written by George’s grandfather. Against the odds these sections fit in well without diminishing the pace of the book, the pace being fast enough to command attention.
I would add one comment. On the front cover of the book we see Arthur gazing at the prospective reader, looking a little like Draco Malfoy. My initial plan was to send my review copy of the book to the eight-year-old son of a friend, whom I know to like school stories such as the Potter saga. The text is actually much too dark, the nature of the menace too psychologically adult, for such a young reader and for readers of 12 and up.