Fledgling by Lucy Hope

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Fledgling by Lucy Hope

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A most distinctive debut, clearly indebted to Skellig but definitely providing a fantasy drama with some nicely chilling scenes that will last in the memory.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: November 2021
Publisher: Nosy Crow Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1839941887

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Bavaria, 1900. Our scene is a most peculiar hilltop house, built bit by bit over the decades, and now looking imperiously down on the village and woods below. It's an eccentric house, to host eccentrics, so the library shelving system is not as we'd know it, the roof is retractable, there is a steam-powered, hand-operated lift system cut through it, and so on. At the moment it houses an ex-soldier with PTSD and a passion for the long-standing family hobby of taxidermy, a woman who does nothing but quibble, kvetch and sing opera loudly, and the dying grandma to our heroine, Cassie, a young lass who has to do all the maintenance of this bizarre machine-like abode. Oh but it's also going to house someone or something else, when crashing through Cassie's bedroom window one stormy day is a cherub. And if you think such a heavenly arrival is going to be a completely great and wonderful thing, think again...

Straight away this made me feel like I was reading Mitch Albom attempting the fantasy of Skellig. There's the conviction – certainly in Cassie's one and only friend – that this is definitely one of the cherubim and therefore sacred, contrasted with the mundane girl we empathise with here in her learning what the heck to do with it and what having it around her might mean.

There's not always quite that same conviction in some of the eccentricity. At times it felt like the house's inhabitants, and perhaps it itself, were a little too close to being odd for odd's sake. There's also the reluctance to tell us quite what the villagers think about the family, and what happened to make them so alienated from each other – talk of house-guests galore in the past lead nowhere, and just a mutter or two about the stuffed wildlife isn't enough. Still, my doubts that the oddball here were fully justified were reduced greatly when in just one fell swoop the taxidermy proves what it can do to the mood of the piece; that and the wonderful transformation scene that brings the reader to the halfway mark really show the author can write, and can command her more chilling ideas.

And it's when the more spooky factors come to play here that this book really shines – never before has this audience seen such proof that the owls are not what they seem. This is at times a very visual read indeed, and when our heroine is allowed to expand on the feeling that the place she is in has just turned colder we're allowed to feel all the elements of her predicament – to such an extent that the writing can't ever get round to mentioning the potential romance side of things, which I feel a Hollywood version of this would make much greater a deal of.

In all it's a thoroughly engaging piece, a well-thought-through dark(ish) fantasy, with a real frisson of ominous things for the under-twelves to read about. The pages turn with consummate ease, making this a very strong calling card for this debut author.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall is highly recommended – instead of a girl forming a new holy family it has a girl destined to make a king quake.

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