Maggie Blue and the Dark World - Anna Goodall
Maggie Blue is an outsider, both at home and at school. She lives with her eccentric aunt Esme, and has no friends other than the irascible Hoagy, a stray cat who can talk to her. When Magge sees Ida, her foe from school, being taken through a window to another world by one of their teachers who has transformed into a wolf, she is determined to save her, whatever the cost. But the dark world is full of danger, a place where happiness is valued above all else, and Maggie discovers that her role is far more important than anyone could have guessed. A thrilling and gripping tale of friendship, courage and the power of being yourself.
I was lucky enough to have been sent an advance proof of this to read prior to publication, and I really can't wait for it to be released so that others can share in this brilliant tale!
Telling the story of Maggie Blue, a lonely teen living with her aunt as her mum is suffering mental health problems, it captivated and drew me into its dark world like few books recently have, following Maggie on her quest to rescue a schoolmate kidnapped and spirited through a portal into a strange parallel world.
Reminiscent of Pullman's Northern Lights, with a headstrong young female lead accompanied by a grumpy animal sidekick (Hoagy challenging Pan as my favourite animal associate!), but with fantasy elements akin to Lewis Carroll's Alice (underground tunnels and talking animal-esques) and Tolkien's Lord of the Ring (loved the ouroboros!), this book transports the characters and the reader through a mysterious window in the forest to a dark parallel world, ruled over by the evil Eldrow, and filled (in the best traditions!) with witches, spirits, shapeshifting children and a pursuing villain to rival the best of them in the vulpine Miss Cane.
The descriptions of the challenges faced, the settings of both worlds vividly described, and the colourful cast of characters make this an enthralling adventure for readers 10+. Scares aplenty, threat and menace that will thrill and cause gasps, but also hope, resilience, friendship and honesty: all play a part in this gripping and exciting tale that had me up late into the night desperate to see what would happen! The plot and pace race along, accompanied by humour in places and cliffhanger endings that demand the next chapter be read without delay...no spoilers here, but I'm VERY pleased that the ending leaves a sequel a definite (and very welcome!) possibility.
Publisher Bella Pearson states that this is 'one of the most exciting middle-grade novels' she has come across in recent times. I don't hesitate to agree!
Thank you to Bella and Oxford-based Guppy Books for sending me an early proof copy of the book, and also the fantastically finished version, wonderfully illustrated by the brilliant Sandra Dieckmann.
Published by Guppy Books - follow them on Twitter and Instagram (@guppybooks) and find out more at their website: guppybooks.co.uk
Author Anna Goodall is on Twitter as @AGoodallAuthor , and illustrator Sandra Dieckmann is there as @sandradieckmann
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Facebook) February 2021