On the edge of my seat with The House at the Edge of Magic
The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes
The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes is one of those wonderful books that you miss as soon you stop reading. I spent the weekend immersed in this story and finished it Monday afternoon. Slightly depressed later that evening, I realised I was feeling lonely without this volatile dwelling place and its unconventional inhabitants.
This story introduces Nine, an orphan and "thiefling" who steals to earn her keep in a hideout for strays, presided over by the sinister Pockets. As much as Nine dislikes Pockets, she has nowhere else to go. When she accidentally discovers a mysterious, enchanted house, Nine agrees to help its occupants in exchange for what she hopes will be her ticket to freedom.
The house belongs to a stubborn wizard named Flabberghast. He shares his home with an enormous troll and gentle giant called Eric, and a tiny but ferocious kilt-wearing scientist who also happens to be a wooden spoon. The other protagonists include a benevolent librarian, an intriguing and ominous witch and the house itself, which is one of the most compelling characters.
Under a spell, this house is extremely unpredictable and at times even hostile. Books launch themselves like missiles, while the toilet likes to hide in unlikely places and sometimes even sprouts teeth. There are unexpected and undesirable consequences to simple actions such as attempting to open cupboards and doors. There's a basement whose inhabitants are only "sometimes dead," a graveyard in the garden, and if there are skeletons in the closet, they won't be merely metaphorical.
Nine is a fantastic and wonderfully flawed main character. Hardened by a life that hasn't shown her much kindness, Nine tries to conceal her caring side, refusing to reveal any signs of weakness. Nine is determined, brave, resourceful and loyal to her new friends, to whom she quickly becomes devoted, even if she would prefer not to show it.
Eric, the apron-wearing troll, is utterly endearing, from his attachment to his feather duster to his habit of wringing nervously his tail and constantly searching for sweets. Eric is incredibly maternal towards all of the protagonists, even Nine, despite her bristly nature and having just made her aquaintance.
Flabberghast is hilarious and so is Dr Spoon, and there is so much comedy from all the characters and their predicaments. I love how this book finds delight in the everyday, such as tea and friendship, as well as the extraordinary. It's also brilliant how it celebrates the magic that can be found in ALL libraries, not just the enchanted ones.
The House at the Edge of Magic is extremely exciting and action-packed, and I was on the edge of my seat for most of it. I was initially attracted to this story by its captivating cover. The artwork is by Ben Mantle who has illustrated lots of fabulous picture books, including one of our favourites from 2020, King of the Swamp by Catherine Emmett.
I hadn't read anything by Amy Sparkes before, but she is extremely prolific and considered a "story godmother" by the many emerging authors she has mentored. We just got The Secret of Me which is excellent too and will definitely be reading more by this author. I love her skilful storytelling, with perfect pacing and not a word out of place.
I would absolutely love to explore the chaotic corridors and rambunctious rooms of The House at the Edge of Magic in person. I was delighted to read a note at the back announcing further adventures of Nine and her companions, and am very much looking forward to returning to this house! There are echoes of Diana Wynne Jones and Dickens, yet this is thoroughly fresh and original. The House at the Edge of Magic is as addictive and delicious as the sweets frequently brandished by Eric the troll - I cannot wait for more!
Published by Walker Books