The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox (Viking Books for Young Readers, March 15, 2016, middle grade), went on my tbr list the moment I laid eyes on its description--siblings evacuated from WW II London to a castle in Scotland where there is sinister magic afoot.  It sounded perfect for me! Alas, although there were things I appreciated, and I am happy to recommend it to middle grade readers who like slow burn horror, and although lots of other people really like and it's gotten lots of stars and rave reviews, it fell short for me.

The sinister magic was plenty sinister.  It is clear from the get go, both to the reader and to the central protagonist, Kat, the oldest of the London siblings, that all is not wholesome sunshine and light at Rookskill Castle, and that the lady of the castle is clearly not a Good Thing.  In a series of flashbacks taking us back into the past of the lady of the castle, the reader is told of the horrible bargains that Lady Eleanor has made over the years.  And it is indeed darkly horrible, and really creepy and fascinating.  But the result is that the reader knows many things long before the characters do, and as the pages turned and the number of child victims of dark magic rose, I became frustrated there was nothing actually being done about it.  It's not until around 280 pages into the book that Kat begins to actively confront Lady Eleanor, and instead of being as tense as I could have been, I was mostly just relieved that Kat was finally using her own magical talismans and actually doing something for crying out loud.

I also really did not feel as though the whole German spy subplot was necessary (I rarely feel German spy subplots add all that much), and indeed, frustrated as I was that it was taking Kat so long to stop thinking that she should "keep calm and carry on" (as her father had told her to do), the fact that she was dragged into decoding cyphers didn't seem to be to the point.  Nor did it seem at all necessary for the anti-German-spy folks to actually be trying to use magic to counter the Germans.  I'm not against using magic against the Nazis, but I think it has to be worked into a story more naturally than it is here, where it is basically just stated.  Although it's not an uninteresting story in its own right, it detracts and distracts from the specialness of Kat's magic, and Lady Eleanor's magic, and does not do much to further the plot.

So in short I didn't like this book as much as I'd hoped I would--it took too long for the main character to become an active protagonist, and the insertion of German spy magic subplot was pretty much a WTF for me instead of a positive addition.  Oh well.  You can go read the Kirkus review now, for a different opinion!


  1. I rarely feel German spy subplots add all that much

    I feel the same way--this was my main complaint about The War That Saved My Life, which I otherwise really, really liked.

    I've been intrigued by this one and will probably still give it a try, but with slightly lowered expectations.

    1. I agree so much about The War that... It really didn't Need that part of the story, and in fact I had forgotten that element of it until you reminded me!


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