An irresistible mixture of mystery, danger, history and fantasy this story by award winning author Sally Gardner has a fairytale quality that makes the book a delight to curl up with on a winter evening.
From the opening lines this novel has an other world feel to it. When we first meet Celeste we wonder if she is in the middle of a disturbing dream. Maybe a fantasy. Perhaps a curious mix of the two. Slowly and carefully Sally Gardner reveals tantalising glimpses of places, characters and events that intertwine as the truth of Celeste’s story is revealed both to her and to the reader. When she wakes up in a costume basket at the Royal Opera House Celeste is troubled by the memory of a sinister man in a green suit in a watery cave and a dangerous game called The Reckoning. To add to her confusion everyone at the theatre thinks that she is someone else, a talented dancer named Maria. Then the huge, crystal chandelier in the dome of the theatre, sparkling with hundreds of candles, crashes to the ground and as Celeste recovers from this horrific accident she is visited by a strange girl who claims to know her past. As the story unfolds it becomes apparent to both Celeste and the reader that she is playing a dangerous game that she must win to save those she loves and discover the truth.
It has been fourteen years since Sally Gardner last wrote a book for readers in this age group so she will be a new name for some. This original and beautifully imaginative story will enthral a new group of readers. This would be perfect for those readers in Upper Primary and Lower Secondary who enjoy a slightly more challenging and thoughtful read. There are textual references that avid readers will enjoy spotting. The repetition of, “And down she falls…” so reminiscent of Alice, the ghostly ship and the names of the girls at the heart of this story are reminders of other stories with a similar feel to this one. I am always intrigued by stories that play with the concept of time and parallel lives and Sally Gardner has used the idea of the Gutter of Time when a choice or decision can alter lives dramatically to masterful effect. The story contains both suspense and shock balanced with a bond of friendship and love that creates a whole that is captivating.
The world created by the author is a rich one. The descriptions of the theatre and life both in front of and behind the curtains are wonderful and will appeal to readers who are interested in the stage. I loved the historical aspect and the descriptions of the city in the depths of winter. There is a slightly spooky edge to this and it a wonderful read for a dark winter evening.
I should like to thank the publishers, Zephyr Books, for my free review copy. The hardback version was published in October with a stunning cover by Helen Crawford-White and is available to purchase in your local book shop or online