The Daring of Della Dupree, by Natasha Lowe, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Daring of Della Dupree (July 2020, Simon and Schuster) is Natasha Lowe's fourth story about a young girl studying witchcraft, and like her predecessors, Poppy, Mabel, and Cat, Della's journey toward understanding her magic has its rocky moments!  (Though the books are connected, they all stand alone just fine).

Della is not the most outstanding student at Ruthersfield Academy even though she shares a name with its founder, the great witch Della Dupree.  She loves looking after animals, which isn't on the curriculum, and having a baby duckling in one's pocket makes it hard to focus on history.   When her class has to do presentations about the famous Della and her struggle to give girls the freedom to be magical back in the middle ages, when witches were persecuted, not-famous Della puts it off till the last minute.  A desperate trip to the school library to consult an ancient book from the earliest days of the school turns out to be just the thing.

The book somehow compels her to borrow one of the school's time travelling talismans, and with the necklace fastened on, she sends herself back in time to the year the school was founded.  When she arrives and stops to think, she plans to go home soon, but then she meets Mary, a little girl whose own magic is just beginning to bubble up and out of control, rendering her almost hysterical with fear.  Witches are hated, and Mary doesn't want her life destroyed.  While comforting Mary, a travelling entertainer happens by, and when he goes on his way Della finds to her horror her necklace has gone with him!

Now she's trapped in the past and, like Mary, she has lots to be afraid of.  But all is not lost.  An older witch, Bessie, is gathering witch girls around her; they visit her in secret to learn to handle their magic.  Bessie's teachings and unfettered magic are a far cry from the staid and controlled magic of Della's school, fiercer and boarding on the unethical.  But she can't travel through time.

To find the jester, Della finds work at the local castle.  Magic is a habit for her, so the food becomes more potable, the smells less horrid, and the rooms cleaner.  The necklace, however, is nowhere to be found.  And then she and the other girls are betrayed and their nightmare comes true when they are imprisoned in the castle.  Della has to do some quick thinking and clever magic to get them out, and even more of both when she sees a way to not only make peace between the lord and his banished brother, but to open the hearts of the locals to magic, and the witches who wield it (lasagna is involved, and lots of boot mending.  Della is very good a practical magic....)

Like its companions, Della's book is a warm and friendly adventure. Kindness and courage are central to her success and there are plenty of fun magical moments.  There's plenty of tension too--ranging from not meeting the expectations of parents and school, to dealing with prejudice and possible death.  This later part of the book, the backbone of the plot, makes it more than just fun magical romps, and it's good to see Della come back home to her own time a stronger, better person as a result of her experiences (because magical time travel should change a person, or it's pointless).    But the joy of the magic makes even the tensest moments sparkle!

It's pretty good time travel too--there's not any effort to provide any real world historical context (it's generic medievally times), so there's a lot of the culture that's missing, but on the other hand, nothing that's there (food, clothes, livelihoods, prejudice against witches etc.), was jarring, and the sensory detail made it all seem vividly real.   (I liked that when Della returned to her own time in the end, the sensory details of her experience, as it were, came with her...which is to say, she badly needed a bath).  On the time travel difficulty scale, this is a fairly easy one--language problems seem to be taken care of by the magic, and (as long as you have your wand ready) clothes and food can be sorted out easily.

Della's adventure is one that I would give in a heartbeat to a nine or  ten year old whose devoured all the books about care of magical animals, and needs something new to read.  Magical animals don't actually play a role in the plot (Della would probably have liked more!), but Della's baby duck will make her immediately sympathetic to these readers, and then they'll be off and running.  More generally, it's a really good series for kids who aren't ready for the upper middle grade sort of books, with violence and hints of romance and more darkness.

Short answer, if the cover is judged cute and appealing, the book will be enjoyed. (I am a sample size of 1 in this regard, so it is probably true!).

disclaimer: review copy very gratefully received from the author

1 comment:

Free Blog Counter

Button styles