I missed out last year on The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes which was universally lauded for its glorious creepy Halloween setting and everyone agreed on not to read it at night! So when I purchased a copy last winter, I had originally planned to read it as part of a glorious spookfest this October.
When I heard the sequel The. Bewitching of Aveline Jones was coming out I realised I needed to correct this and decided to read both now, after all I am rather embracing of the gothic year round! I was unprepared for just how gloriously ME this book is- steeped in folktales and the edge of wonder-yness that is the West Country as a spooky girl sees beyond the veil and realises it’s not quite as fun as she thought.
Aveline loves stories that will scare her, and has to stay with her Aunt Lilian for half term whilst her mother takes care of poorly Granny in Scotland.
She’s not looking forward to it because Aunt Lilian is strict and fussy, and Malmouth in late October is a ghost town… what Aveline didn’t realise as she takes home a second-hand book of local ghost tales just how prophetic those thoughts would be.
‘The only living things to be seen were the rooks sat hunched in the branches, hurling their angry curses across the empty countryside.’
Phil takes lyrical poetic tones to his writing, bringing not just light or shade but an haunting chiaroscuro to the storycraft.
The haunting chill of coastal winter is evoked from the scent of seaweed tossed ashore by storms, the scent of petrichor and puffs of breath in the freezing sea-misted air. The sense of place from the sea battered cottages and scones with jam.
‘Um no thanks,’ Aveline said, holding a hand to her mouth to hide her smile. He couldn’t have been more wrong and yet she didn’t want to tell him just yet. He seemed to be enjoying himself too much.
But also the internal world of Aveline is rich and poetic but with the perfect touch of ingenue naivety. We see Aveline descend from a slight city-girl bravado to knock-kneed fear of what lives in the shadows as the truth of Halloween in Malmouth dawns upon her.
Yet beautifully, this is not a hoist by her own petard tale of hubris, this is a tale of growth and change, as Aveline realises her childlike glee at ghosts must be tempered with knowledge and protection, and still, her innate courage also shines through for at the core of it, she is right; all ghosts have a reason.
As you know, there’s no smoke without fire…
I absolutely adored this tale, Aveline reminded me somewhat of myself at that age, spooky, different and fascinated by the supernatural and edge of wonder as the fairy tales and playful ghost takes reveal behind the curtain to be darker and more deeper than we once thought. Perfect for the Wednesday Addams among us.
Now, I am eager to discover Aveline next adventure near a stone circle in summer. Come back Saturday for my stop on the tour for The Bewitching of Aveline Jones!
The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes is published by Usborne.