Set in Stone by Linda Newbery

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Set in Stone by Linda Newbery

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A fine Gothic novel, full of menace and mystery. It's set around the turn of the century, but the overall feel is of wild, Bronte-esque high romanticism. Recommended for all sophisticated young readers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Black Swan
ISBN: 978-0552774017

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When the young and rather naive artist Samuel Godwin finds a position as tutor to the daughters of the wealthy socialite and arts patron Ernest Farrow, he can't quite believe his luck. Arriving at Fourwinds, he is drawn immediately and inexorably into the lives of the quiet and demure Juliana, the wild and wilful Marianne and the reserved, demure Charlotte, their governess. Fourwinds is beautiful, ahead of its times and designed with an artist's eye. Traditional on the outside and modern on the inside, none but the best craftsmen have been allowed to work on the house.

However, all is not as it first seems. Fourwinds has its secrets. Why has the carving of the West Wind disappeared and what happened to the talented sculptor who created it? Why is Marianne's grip on reality so very fragile? What is the source of Juliana's debilitating sadness? What happened to the girls' previous governess? What were the mysterious circumstances leading up to Mrs Farrow's tragic death? As Samuel and Charlotte gradually begin to unravel the mysteries, Fourwinds becomes a menacing symbol of the superficial veneer holding the Farrow family together.

This is an absolutely wonderful Gothic novel. It has the kind of intelligent plotting and clever use of misunderstandings used to such marvellous effect by Jane Austen. Both the writing style and the multiple layers of secret upon secret are straight out of Jane Eyre. But the overall effect is of the wild, passionate romanticism of Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte's unflinching cruelty is there too. It's full of suspense as the narrative slots into place each piece of the puzzle discovered separately by Samuel and Charlotte. The reader knows more than either of them, but never knows quite enough, right up to the very end.

It's a romantic and tragic mystery story with an ending that is not ambiguous but that is emotionally complex. This, together with its darker themes of abuse, rape and incest, its strong use of powerful imagery and its adult narrators probably puts Set in Stone firmly out of the reach of all but the most sophisticated and emotionally mature younger teens. But for all those ready to cope - including the adults - it's a tour de force. If this one doesn't find its way onto the school syllabus, I'll want to know why.

Another strong historical novel with a classical feel is The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan.

Booklists.jpg Set in Stone by Linda Newbery is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.

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