This somewhat gothic tale is set at the end of the 19th century, on the English-Scottish border. It is the story of 12-year-old Annie who is taken on as a servant by Lady Hexer, after she goes to live on the estate with her brother Tom, a gardener. Lady Hexer is dabbling in magic and discovers that Annie can travel back in time to the Leper hospital that had stood on the site during the early middle ages, and she persuades her to try and get hold of the medical book written by Dr Huksor who runs the hospital.
This is a brooding story with magic and superstition playing a central role. The story is mainly told from Annie’s point of view, but it is interspersed with sections (in italics) written by Lady Hexer, which give a different focus on what is going on. What is very apparent is how servants are entirely dependent on the good will of their employers. The characters are well developed but I needed more convincing about the sense of place and time. There was nothing which really anchored the leper hospital in the 11th century, a time when the Normans were invading the south of England and there had been a Danish invasion in the north. The Victorian setting was more successful and reflected the changes going on in the cities and rural areas of the country.
This was a book that grew on me the more I read and it will fit in well with the range of gothic style novels which are appearing at the moment. It was shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House award in 2010.