Last year I had the privilege of being on the Cybils panel that picked The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere I), by Jacqueline West, as one of the shortlist books in the middle grade sci fi/fantasy category, and I was delighted when the second-round readers picked it as the winner. So naturally I was pleased as punch to sit down with its sequel, Spellbound (Dial, 2011), this week.
Olive thought that she had done away with the malevolent spirit of her house's previous owner, Aldous McMartin, who had a nasty habit of trapping anyone who got in his way inside his paintings. And the portrait of his evil daughter, Annabelle, was safely buried out in the back garden, disposing of her nasty spirit.
But Olive's friend Morton is still a painting, and she can't figure out how to help him become real again. And the house still holds dark secrets--secrets that someone, or something, wants her to find. Betraying the trust the house's three guardian cats have placed in her, Olive ventures into forbidden territory, and finds the McMartin's spell book, the key to their sinister magic. She's never loved any book so much in her whole life...which is just what Anabelle McMartin intended.
Once more Olive is plunged into a confutation with dark magic, and this time the cats can't (or won't) help. But she does have Rutherford, the quirky boy next door, on her side...and more than a bit of backbone and pluck of her own!
Now, I am the sort of reader who generally gets squirmy when characters of whom I am fond stray onto Dark Paths and alienate their guardian cats (or their equivalent). So when I reached the point at which Olive made her Bad Choice, I was anxious. Happily, I did not need to be--West kept a brightness to her writing that both carried the story along swimmingly, and helped me keep my faith in Olive's fundamentally well-meaning character. And the cats, of whom I am very fond, do get a lot of page time, in case anyone is anxious on that account.
I prefer the first book of the series, simply because of my penchant, of which I have spoken before, for books in which people move into old and mysterious houses. In this second book, the house, of course, has already been moved into, and West has widened her focus slightly to include more of the neighborhood.
But this does not mean that I did not enjoy Spellbound--I did. It was brisk, creepy, mysterious fun! The ending resolves the immediate crisis, but promises a third book; I shall now begin afresh my anticipatory wait for more about Olive and her mysterious house!
Here's another review at Waking Brian Cells and another at Books Together
And here's a video that tells about the house that inspired Olive's story, and more about the book: