The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, by Gabrielle Kent (Scholastic, October 25 2016), is one I very much want to send back in time to eight-year old me. That me was an avid reader of fantasy, and I loved the stories where magic intruded into the tedium of everyday life and exploded it. That's the sort of story this one is, and it has the added benefit of having time travel bits, although not so much as to say that this is a Time Travel story.
Alfie's life is horribly mundane and not much fun; his mom is dead, and he lives in a basement apartment with his loving but not the best at parenting father (the sort of father who's always tinkering with inventions, and can't cook). And Alfie isn't looking forward to the summer stretching ahead with his one good friend, Amy, away for most of it. But just a few pages into the story, the tedium ends abruptly when Alfie slips through time to escape some bullies. And that's the start of his introduction to magic, setting in motion the steps in plan begun centuries earlier.
Alfie learns, from a shapeshifting raven lawyer, that he's inherited Hexbridge Castle, and that he and his father must live in it. Not that they are reluctant to leave their basement, especially when the Castle comes with enough funds to keep it up, and lots of (quirky) renovations in place, and a butler with divine cooking skills. Alfie and his cousins have a grand time exploring the vast and wonderful place, and it really is almost too good to be true.
There's something of a catch, though, as there so often is. Alfie's parents inadvertently travelled back in time the day his was born, allowing the last of the druids to imbue Alfie with his magic. And now Alfie has lots to learn. Magic is more than just flying off to London on a talking polar bear rug. Because where there is great magic, there are greedy ones who want to take it for themselves.
The greedy ones here are sufficiently well developed in their nastiness that they counter the almost cotton-candy (delightfully tasty in moderation, not so much by the time you've eaten the whole thing) wonder of the castle, and as Alfie and his cousins begin to unravel the truth of what's been terrorizing the farms around the castle, things become very exciting reading indeed (and another, somewhat more substantial, time travel episode takes place too; just to make it clear this is a valid Timeslip Tuesday book). Attentive blog readers will note that I have tagged the post with "dragons." There are reasons for this, that I don't to spoil, but if you like dragons, there's that bit of incentive for you.
Some of the situations are scary, but they aren't Scary scary. Just enough to be exciting. So you can comfortably give this one to an 8 or 9 year old who wants nice juicy fantasy fun and for whom magical castles are the be all and end all. And then you can give them Edward Eager, and then E. Nesbit.
Extra points from me for the Enigmatic Butler with mysterious powers and a mysterious past, who I don't think child me would have appreciate as much as adult me does!
Extra points also for not making the magic easy; instead, its seductive lure give Archie convincing pause.
This came out last summer in the UK as Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, and the sequel, Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief, came out there this June. But the first book stands just fine on its own, so don't worry on that score!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher