A perfectly crafted middle-grade fantasy adventure where words hold true magic.
Rayne doesn’t want to be a spell-breather. She wants to be out playing with her friends instead of spending time at home organising scrolls, practising ‘mind writing’, and trying to keep as far away as possible from the biting mud devils that protect her Mam’s precious spell book. However, when a stranger finds their hidden village, Mam announces she has to leave temporarily and Rayne must use her newly learned skills to help their neighbours while she is away. Rayne promises to do what she can but she quickly learns that the magic in Mam’s book is fragile. The spells break and a monster curse is unleashed on the village. Terrified, Rayne and her best friend, Tom, set out a journey to find Mam and mend the spells.
This book is simply bursting with enchanting and magical ideas. Where do I start? Perhaps with the core of the story – that words have power and can be crafted into spells that can be ‘breathed’ on to people. Or, maybe, with the creepy and frankly quite frightening transformations that happen to people when the spells that have been used on them are broken. Alternatively, there are the descriptions of the books and the settings including the beautiful tomes in the Great Library, the eerie dictionaries that are chained deep underground, and word spells secretly captured in delicate bottles. Topping all, however, is my personal favourite – the gargoyle-like ‘grotesques’. We first meet these snapping creatures in the mud that covers Mam’s spell book (the ‘Mud Book’ is another inspired concept) but they develop a much bigger role as the story progresses. (Sorry – you’ll have to read the book to find out more!)
This magic and impressive world building is complemented by an array of strong and believable characters. Our central character, Rayne, is appealing but it’s the supporting characters that make this book really special. I suspect most readers will gravitate towards talking fox, Frank, who helps Rayne and Tom find their way to the Great Library. My favourite character, however, has to be Tom. He’s a steadfast critic of everything to do with magic and spell-breathing but slowly comes to accept that spells can be useful. Indeed, while the story is from Rayne’s point of view (told in the third person), this is really a story of both friends and how they grow through their journey.
The plot itself is a gripping quest with lots of twists and turns and a suitably exciting climax. However, it is the magic that is likely to draw you in and Julie Pike’s near perfect storytelling that will keep you rapidly turning those pages. Personally, it was all over too fast and I’m very much hoping for a sequel. This world, and the characters within it, are simply too wonderful to be confined to just one book.
If you enjoyed this, you should consider reading The Maker of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory or Lorraine’s equally wonderful debut, Mold and the Poison Plot. Alternatively, if you’re looking for another gripping middle-grade story about friendship, truth and breaking boundaries, I’d strongly recommend you read The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum.
Publication date: July 2019
Publisher: Oxford University Press