Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: January 2012
Genre: young adult, horror, gothic, mystery
When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less-than-warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don’t know is that their aunt’s life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries – before it’s too late for little Mimi. Riveting and intensely atmospheric, this stunning debut will hold readers in its spell long after the last page is turned.
Cora and Mimi are sent by their father from London to Bryers Guerdon to temporarily live with their great-aunt Ida. Ida, however, does not want the girls and keeps trying to convince their father they should leave. Cora, headstrong and determined to make the best of this visit, makes friends with some neighbor boys, Roger and Peter and the rest of their family. As the days pass and Auntie Ida’s stern warnings to stay away from the church and to keep all doors and windows locked tight, Cora and Roger soon learn of a chilling family secret, and Mimi is the target victim of a long-standing family curse.
Holy Mother of God.
I could not put this book down, but I also could not read it without turning on all the lights and blasting happy Christmas music at night. Even in the day I kept seeking out more light and cheerful noise. Although the protagonists, Cora and Roger, are roughly age 10 and Mimi is 4, this is not a book for children. The content and the atmosphere are perfect for young adults, but may be a bit too terrifying for some.
Barraclough took an old folk song and spun a chilling tale from it. The poem itself gave me chills (small excerpt below):
Said my lord to my lady as he mounted his horse:
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.”
Said my lord to my lady as he rode away:
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the hay.
“Let the doors be all bolted and the windows all pinned,
And leave not a hole for a mouse to creep in.”
The doors were all bolted and the windows all pinned,
Except one little window where Long Lankin crept in…
Barraclough also captured all the classic gothic tricks in this chilling novel. First, an old and crumbling estate. Cora and Mimi are constantly fighting through cobwebs and choking on the rotting air. Second, a family history that needs to be uncovered. Cora is a curious sort, to her aunt’s disdain, and begins to ask all the adults in the area all sorts of questions about the crumbling church, the tree with rags and children’s shoes, why Ida still lives in a rotting mansion, why there is Latin writing all over the place, who knows who in the village and why are people worried Mimi will disappear, etc. Third, documents and religious implications are scattered throughout. Cora finds a tin box filled with writings on the history of Bryers Guerdon and the Guerdon family, all recorded by a parish rector from Ida’s time and dating back to the 1500s. Finally, sightings of haunted children, ghosts, and spirits, and things that rattle and slither and go bump in the night, fill these pages. Every sound is significant. Every sighting has a purpose.
Frightening, immensely chilling, well-plotted and deeply fascinating, this book is worth a read if one is looking for a perfect ghost story. I haven’t read any recently published ghost stories like this since Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black.