The House At the Edge of Magic - Amy Sparkes
A fast-paced adventure, racing through the streets of Victorian London, this is a funny, magical, slightly scary, and ultimately feel-good 'romp'. Following the story of Nine, an orphan pickpocket in a gang of thieves run by Fagin-esque 'Pockets', there are definite nods to Dickens in the world she inhabits, and in the hold she is desperate to break to escape the life she leads (and without giving away spoilers, I'll tell you now, Nine has won my heart with her love of books and the library!).
Finding herself in posession of a magical miniature house, she is suddenly drawn inside its doors, as it increases in size and tempts her inevitably in, thus setting on a race-against-time mission to break the code of a curse, save the inhabitants, and earn the reward of red-jewelled riches that will lift her from her life of crime in The Nest of a Thousand Treasures.
Does that sound like a lot is going on?? Yes? Well.... that's because there is, but instead of becoming confused, this sprint of a story uses the chaos of the events and characters to add to the crazily-chaotic world and atmosphere created by Amy Sparkes inside the doors of the House. There we meet a cast of Addams-family type inhabitants (ranging from a hideous but kindly house-keeping troll with a treasured feather duster and an apron full of boiled sweets, to an angry Scottish scientist in the guise of a wooden spoon, in search of a missing bowl...) and it's main character...Flabberghast, a mildly incompetent wizard in desperate need of saving from a curse put upon him and the house by an evil witch. The cover brilliantly hints at the chaotic layout and occupants of the dwelling!
This story had a bit of everything: fun in a range of forms: from dry, droll cutting remarks of Flabberghast, to the mad scientist Dr Spoon; scary moments in the threat of the curse and time running out hanging over the inhabitants, the witch's malevolent presence and the Undead lurking in the cellar; to genuine emotions of hope and positivity, as Nine battles to find a 'family' and love away from the insincere version of it provided by gangmaster, Pockets.
A lovely read, not-too-long but vivid and engaging, this would fit perfectly into primary classrooms as a stepping stone magical adventure for younger readers towards the wizarding worlds of Potter, and the fantasy adventures of Lyra; it's likely also to be loved by older KS2 readers for the wordplay, dialogue, nuances and plot twists, humour and awareness of character emotions and feelings that their more mature eyes may pick up within the story.
Ultimately, though, the moral of the story and desire for Nine to succeed and come good will enthrall all, no matter what age!
...sometimes life does bring you strawberries. Sometimes you are a whisper away from magic without even realising it.
And that's exactly what happened to me.
Many thanks to Walker Books and Rebecca for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for this, and for sending me a copy in advance to review.
Walker Books are on Twitter as @WalkerBooks and their webpage for this title is:
Amy Sparkes is on Twitter as @AmySparkes , and has a fantastic website full of information and resources, linked to this and her other books, at: www.amysparkes.co.uk
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Review by Rich Simpson (follow me on Twitter and Instagram as @richreadalot) January 2021