It's 1940 and it's time for the three Bateson children, Katherine, 12, Robbie and Amelie to be evacuated to Rookskill Castle in Scotland. Their father had already left for Europe, on a secret mission for MI6, but not before he makes arrangements for a new school to be set up for them and other evacuees at the castle.
Before they leave, Kat's Great-Aunt Margaret takes her aside and gives her a gift - a silver chatelaine with its three hanging charms, a scissor, a thimble and a pen. This chatelaine was a precious family heirloom that Great-Aunt Margaret always wore pinned to her belt. But with the gift came a warming - the chatelaine can keep them safe because it is magical, but there is always a price to pay for the use of magic. Logical Kat is skeptical about magic, but reluctantly accepts the chatelaine anyway.
Arriving at the castle, the children meet Lady Eleanor., who Kat notices also wears a chatelaine laden with charms and hidden from view. She tells them that Gregor, Lord Craig, who is distantly related to the Batesons, is quite ill and must be left completely along. The children are forbidden to wander the castle and the castle grounds and are to stay either in the hallway where their rooms are located or in their rooms, which will be locked every night. Eventually, they also meet the other students - Peter, an American slightly older than Kat, Isabella, Colin and Jorry.
It doesn't take long for Kat to begin to think the castle and the cold, aloof Lady Eleanor are very strange, as are the maid Marie, Cook, Hugo the driver who also helps around the castle, and Mr. Storm, their history instructor. Storm is way overly interested in historical artifacts, especially chatelaines. But when Kat begins to notices some strange goings on about the castle, and discovers a wireless in the cellar, she begins to suspect that the castle is harboring a German spy. And who are the children that seem to mysteriously come and go, and then there's Jorry's sudden disappearance, even after his parents come looking for him.
The novel occasionally flashes back to 1745 and the story of Leonora, a young girl who was married to the lord of Rookskill Castle, for the purpose producing a child. When she fails to do that, she goes to a person only referred to as the magister, who magically helps her get a child, but, of course, there is always a price to pay for using magic and she must pay the magister, a payment that brings us right back to 1940s Scotland.
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is a dark and sinister tale about the forces of good and evil, and I have to confess I really loved reading it. Their are the typical tropes of creepy fantasy - weird nighttime noises, ghostlike children appearing and disappearing, a creepy, evil woman, secret passages and spells cast to confuse. To me, it felt very Gaimanesque and I mean that as compliment.
Kat is a wonderful character whose logical mind has a hard time accepting that magic might just be real. On the other hand, her logical mind also mean that she has a real talent for decoding encrypted messages, something that really comes in handy in this novel.
All the ends relating to this story are tied up by the end of the novel, but there is the hint of a possible sequel because the denouement just isn't a neat and clean as it could be and leaves room for a lot of speculation about Kat's future.
Let me just mention here, for those who may not know this, but Adolf Hitler and the men he surrounded himself with had a serious interest in the occult.
I found this to be an original, spine tingly story, even though at times, I know I figured out things before a young readers might. Readers who have already zipped through the Harry Potter books and want more of the same will probably also enjoy The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. I know I did.
A Discussion and Project Guide is now available to download thanks to author Janet Fox.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher