The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is one of my favourite books ever. Moriarty manages to make her writing feel timeless, classic and modern in one, to sweep even the grown up away into its deeply layered worlds of magic.
At first I was a little confused as this was billed as the sequel and yet as I began reading the book is dual narrated by aristocratic Honey Bee and orphan Finlay (and occasional Glim) and no mention of Bronte… hmmmn…. in the iconic words of Miranda Hart ‘Bear with, Bear with’
This is a sequel and a prequel of sorts- but hey.. spoilers.
The town of Spindrift lies on a peninsular between the Kingdom of Storms and the Whispering Kingdom and thanks to being surrounded by several Shadow Magic communities is a lively and diverse harbour town where witches, sirens, silver foxes and whisperers live happily side by side with the more mundane humans and benevolent magic beings.
It is also home to a small Orphanage school and the prestigious aristocratic boarding school Brathelwaites whom are locked in a battle of pranks & sabotage after a disastrous Sports Day.
But as the kingdoms go to war and whisperers are not just stealing children but using their magic to force communities to attack each other can the children set aside their differences to make a real difference, and possibly change the tide of the war?
‘My people, we are at war with the Whispering kingdom.’
Oh goodness this is a deeply deeply brilliant book. I’ve been reading it aloud with Tinyfae as our bedtime book and she has been riveted desperately fighting sleep to find out what happens to Finlay and Honey Bee and I have to say this is such a clever and thoroughly enthralling piece of writing from start to finish.
We return to the magical world of Bronte Mettlestone with talk of thread and weaving of magic, and Spellbinders.
This richly layered and impeccably detailed world is deeply imagined and immersive, Jaclyn writes with an authority and manner that makes the reader go along with the magical and mundane rules of this universe without questioning or doubt, Moriarty’s narration and world building is so strong you believe it is as real as our own.
We also probe deeper into the Whisperers and what exactly happened before the events of book one without any major spoilering so you could read this first but I HIGHLY recommend reading Bronte first. We see more behind the theory and practice of the magic and the cost.
There is a wonderful nostalgic classic adventure feel to this book, I was reminded at times of the feel of the film John Boorman film Hope and Glory (1987) partially from the childish pranks juxtaposed with the emotional vulnerability of the children and also as the town in distress due to the onslaught of war and this having the consequence that all the children become a little wilder and bolder having their own adventures as adults are distracted.
The feel of hope, duty and patriotism as there is an initial ‘Phoney War’ but when the attacks begin to take place, and the unsuccessful retaliatory steps taken, we see a different side, a strength in the children as the adults fall to pieces. It is one of a few books where the utter vulnerability of parental figures has been shown in the tearful wobbly reactions to fear that the children would be hurt, and an important thing for child readers to know that protectiveness isn’t a punishment but an act of love.
“Then the only danger,,” Victor said spooning a sugar cube into his tea “will be the local children themselves? We could catch diseases from them, say, or slovenly habits? “
Orphans and perceptions of class are a key part of this novel.
It very much explores the attitudes of us and them but with an undulating whisper of ‘there but for Grace’ we see how the similarities of spirit, interest and conscience are what unite and bind these children despite their class differences.
Much is made by Sir Brathelwaite and Victor of the poverty of the orphans with a superiority complex but a hint of this quiet fear that in fact their entire self-worth rests on this concept that they must be by nature superior, better, brighter, bolder, stronger, faster and thus worthy of the privilege they hold.
We see this in the school spirit song, the reaction to the orphans being good at athletics and the way orphans are treated as contagious and Victor calls the orphans’ ambitions preposterous based on their family status alone.
Yet we see throughout that it is courage & effort that is the key, not class, nor rank nor wealth
This is also compared with the paradox of Honey Bee who is just as much an orphan as Finlay & Glim yet doesn’t seem to consider herself nor others see her as a ‘true orphan’ as one in such a place as the orphanage but for the grace of money and family in Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Dominic.
I found this discussion quite interesting and wholly relevant in our increasingly divided culture of have it all’s and have nots with children wondering why there is so much imbalance and inequity. The question of worth ripples throughout this book, and often worth is not monetary it can be courage based, and sometimes the worth is in unprompted kindness or thoughtfulness.
So that must be our proper path
One of the central themes I felt in Bronte Mettlestone was that ‘Everything has a reason’ and how fate can both work in mysterious ways but that we equally captain our fate and steer a course to change our stars. This continues in The Whispering Wars but perhaps more poignantly so considering the divide between the children.
Dotting and dusting throughout the novel seeding and sprinkling clues, asides and comments that mean something in the moment and ultimately in the end. It is beautiful to gasp at a book as the author winds up to reveal another beautiful neatly tied bow of plot. Again and again Moriarty makes the heart sing with joy as each is revealed.
Throughout are the occasional illustrations by the immensely talented Karl J Mountford in his essentially iconic style and a wonderful map to boot- middle grade map lovers this ones a gorgeous one!!
Oh this is such a deeply marvellous book filled with magic and hope and adventure I how to read much more from Jaclyn Moriarty and am delighted that the amazing Bella Pearson is championing this writing through Guppy Books 💜
The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty is published in the UK by Guppy Books.
Thank you so much to Bella Pearson for my copy 💜