Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

Belladonna Johnson is not like the other kids at her school.  The other kids think she is kind of weird because she keeps to herself, and because she talks to people who aren't there - the thing is there are people there, they just happen to be ghosts.  Since her parents died Belladonna has been able to see and talk to not only her parents, but also every other ghost as well.  It works fine for her at home because she gets to keep her parents and have a (somewhat) normal life with them, but it gets harder when she is out and about and can't really tell if the person talking to her is a ghost or not. 

When she meets a ghost who tells her some of the ghosts are missing and that she needs to find the Spellbinder, Belladonna is not sure what to do.  When her parents vanish on the same night as pretty much every other ghost Belladonna starts out on a quest that will be dangerous for her and everyone else around her.  There are dark forces at work,, and unless Belladonna can learn to see past what people want her to see, she is doomed and so is every ghost that has ever been in our world.

This is the first book in a new series, and although I had to work a little to read through it (it is a rather hefty 372 pages) I am glad that I finished it.  Stringer doesn't talk down to her reader, she uses ideas and words that will challenge her reader and encourage them to develop their reading skills, while also telling a story that has pulled together some interesting mythology to make a unique read.  At times the story seems to be a little bogged down in detail, but as the story builds and the speed of the action picks up you begin to realise that the detail is there to prepare you for the story that is to come.  Interestingly, it took a few pages to figure out which country the story was set in which is unusual for this kind of story, but was also a nice surprise to be able to go "Aha" when you figure it out. 

While the intended target may have been just children, this is a book that firmly belongs in the 'tween age range, not only because of the language skills that are required to read it, or the age of the characters, but also just the plain fact that younger children may struggle to read this book.  The action is well written but is buried at times under the building of mythology that always happens in the first book of a series like this one, and the mythology draws from a wide variety of sources that may be difficult for younger readers to process to the best effect.  Teenagers will also enjoy this book, but they are not the intended target audience (or if they were then the author missed her mark).  I look forward to the release of the next book, The Midnight Gate, to see if Stringer can keep the momentum going.

If you like this book then try:
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • Museum of thieves by Lian Tanner
  • The mysterious howling by Maryrose Wood
  • The roar by Emma Clayton

Reviewed by Brilla

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