The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School – Book Review

Kim Newman's second book about young magicians fails to strike a chord...

The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School is the second novel in the series, though the first book itself is a continuation, or rather an expansion of Kim Newman’s novella ‘Kentish Glory: The Secret of Drearcliff School’ which was first published in the 2010 book Mysteries of the Diogenes Club.

Continuing on from the first entry in the series, The Haunting of Drearcliff School follows Amy Thomsett, a young girl that is sent to Drearcliff School after being founding floating on the ceiling by her mother. A school for girls that includes the daughters of ‘Criminal Masterminds’, ‘Outlaw Scientists’, and ‘Master Magicians’, Amy learns that she’s an ‘Unusual’, and that she has powers and abilities that regular people don’t.

Throughout the book the school is portrayed as a combination of X-MenHarry Potter, and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Perculiar Children. Whilst this is the kind of thing that can often work well, especially in the examples that I’ve pointed out, here it never really gels. Drearcliff school never really feels like a school in the way that the others do, there’s not a big focus on training powers like the Xavier school, or on lessons like Hogwarts. It’s just a place where these girls stay.

The girls themselves, the members of the Moth Club, never move beyond the two-dimensional. The girls lack any real depth or development throughout the course of the book. Even Amy, the lead character felt very disconnected. There wasn’t a huge amount of insight into her thoughts or inner workings. Rather than going on a journey with her we have to experience it from afar, separate to her. The story is okay, with some sense of mystery involved, but due to not having a great connection to the characters or the world it felt hard to become invested in what was happening.

The biggest issue with the book, however, is the language. Much of the book is written fairly normally, but a lot of the dialogue and some of the descriptive language can be very off-putting. I understand that the book is set in the 1920’s, and that the kids are using slang a lot, but when I needed to re-read what a character just said in order to figure out what they meant it can take you out of a story very quickly. For example, the first time you hear the teacher Miss Gossage sets the stage for a lot of the dialogue throughout the book. ‘Mawther Hein to Kentish Gloreah, Mawther Hein to Kentish Gloreah, come in, come in, ovah.’

The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School is an incredibly hard book to get into, and there were a number of times when I just wanted to put the book down and stop reading. I’m sure that there are many people who will enjoy the book, especially if they read and liked the previous entry in the series, but it’s not a book that I would recommend to someone that hasn’t already expressed a love for the work Kim Newman.

The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School is now available from Titan Books.

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