Whilst middle-grade books are designed for kids there are a lot that are entertaining for all ages, where you pick up the book and get so absorbed in it that before you realise it you’ve read the whole thing in one sitting. This was what happened to me when I read The House at the Edge of Magic.
The book follows Nine, a young girl living on the streets, who has grown up learning to steal in order to pay back Pockets, the old Fagin like figure, who took her in as a baby. Picking pockets and stealing from shops, Nine is barely living, surviving from day to day, forced to give whatever she gets to a man who treats her like dirt. She’s dreaming of an escape from her life, and when she steals a small ornamental house from a woman’s purse she finds a way to finally get away from things.
When she knocks on the tiny door the house grows to huge proportions, and inside she discovers a strange wizard named Flabberghast, his troll butler Eric, and Doctor Spoon, a kilt wearing, sword wielding living wooden spoon. The three of them have been cursed for years, and cannot leave the house, and ask Nine to help them break the curse, offering her a priceless gem in exchange. With the promise of the wealth she needs to escape her life, Nine reluctantly agrees to help the three of them, but now they only have fifteen hours to break the curse.
The plot moves at a pretty brisk pace, and manages to pack a lot into its pages, so despite its relatively short length there’s plenty of action and adventure to keep you from ever getting bored. Even though a lot of time gets given over to exploring the contents of the weird, magical house, and all the strange things that happen inside it, there’s plenty of time given over to characters too, and readers get some quieter moments to really get to know Nine, and see the life that she’s trying to get away from.
I’ve seen other middle-grade books that have tried to strike this important balance, and more than a few of them fail at it, either neglecting to spend time giving their characters compelling personalities or backgrounds, or bring the pace to a grinding halt whenever they try to. Amy Sparkes has managed to find the perfect balance here, and you never feel like you’re missing out on anything.
Sparkes has also managed to create a really intriguing world, and I just wanted to spend more time inside the house, seeing more of these weird characters, and the world of magic around them. There are hints of bigger things here, of other worlds and places that exist outside of reality, of monsters and creatures from myth and legend. I found myself wanting to learn more about this, and I’d have been over the moon if I’d been told that this was the start of a series that would go on to see the characters having more adventures in magic and weirdness.
As a standalone book this is a great read, one that will appeal to readers of every age. Parents will enjoy reading this with their kids, and adults will have a lot of fun with the strange characters and weirdness. This isn’t the first Amy Sparkes book, but it’s the first of hers that I’ve read, and thanks to how good this is I’d definitely be interested in reading more of her stuff.
The House at the Edge of Magic is out on 7th January from Walker Books.