Charity lives an isolated life in a huge house – a house she herself has scarcely explored since she is forbidden to do so many things on account of her ‘condition’; something that is never explained to her. She is not lonely – there are the staff and Mr Tompkins the cat but she does have a secret, a dream that keeps coming to her; a dream of a dark corridor and a locked door. When she finds this door, Charity realises that there is a mystery to unravel.
Ian Beck is no stranger to fairytales and here he creates a fairytale of his own, weaving in motifs from traditional sources as well as from Victorian classics such as The Secret Garden or even George Macdonald. The result is both charming and very readable. Within the confines of the genre, Charity is a lively and likeable heroine who invites the reader to believe in her predicament. There are enjoyable cameos of the other characters – acerbic Rose, resourceful Silas , homely Mrs Browne, the dour, sorrowing Mr Delafield, and, of course, Mr Tompkins the cat; surely one of the most engaging non-speaking parts. Beck creates a convincing sense of a past time and mystery in this enclosed world of the house with its many rooms, chimneys and stairs. The addition of magic is well handled and is entirely consistent with the plot. This is an old-fashioned story and a satisfying read. Beck’s style is contemporary, combining dialogue with direct sentences and short paragraphs to drive the narrative forward. Among the plethora of short texts currently aimed at the younger reader this novel is to be welcomed as it provides an attractive and substantial read for those who are fluent and have stamina but still need the safe framework of traditional storytelling.