by Amy Sparkes
Nine lives with a gang of pickpockets. Indebted to a ragged gangmaster named Pockets, Nine throws caution to the wind to bring back ‘pretty shinies’ and plunges into deep magic when she steals a charmed ornament from a mysterious red-cloaked lady. The tiny ornament miraculously transforms into an eleven-storey building filled with enchanted creatures and all sorts of magical mayhem. Nine, never one to shy away from a challenge, begins a quest for the shiny-to-beat-all-shinies in exchange for breaking the spell that holds the curious inhabitants hostage.
The story is as charming as its characters, headed by the hopscotch champion wizard Flabberghast. There are anthropomorphic kitchen utensils, a Troll with questionable culinary skills, enchanted cupboards and a skeleton with abandonment issues. And what is that orange ooze dripping from ceiling? Nine is a hard-headed go-getter, unafraid of a challenge. When life gives her caustic bat poo, she springs to action with cat-like precision. She is smart and kind and, best of all, loves a library.
This is a comic fantasy for middle-grade readers, full of action and intensity in all the right places. It has all the sass of Roald Dahl, the charm of Disney’s Beauty and the beast and the wit and wickedness of the world of Harry Potter. The house at the end of magic would be fun to share at bedtimes with younger children, or as a chapter book for confident readers.
What a great name for an author of children’s magical realism! Amy Sparkes is intuitive and funny and definitely knows how to spin a yarn! This is her debut middle-grade book and a brilliant one. Ms Sparkes’s characters are loveable and imaginable and the plot flies like a magic carpet. She has certainly built a world of imagination to delight many readers.
‘Sometimes you are a whisper away from magic without even realising it,’ Nine wisely observes. And lucky for us, there’s a sequel brewing!