by Anna Goodall;
An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess
Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review! This week we are delighted to bring you a recent publication sent to me to review, called MAGGIE BLUE and THE DARK WORLD. This is the debut book by British writer Anna Goodall.
So, as news from Upper Much-Mousing is currently thin on the ground (mainly because Mrs H is using the newspaper spread out to keep the floor clean as she sweeps the chimney), let’s get on with this review.
MAGGIE BLUE and THE DARK WORLD, by ANNA GOODALL
Published by Guppy Books.
Cover artwork by Sandra Dieckmann
ISBN: 978 – 1 – 913101 – 33 – 6
Cover price £7.99
Maggie Blue Brown, aged 13, has gone to live with her aunt Esme in the English town of West Minchen. Her mother, Cynthia Brown, has been ill in hospital for some time. Her father, Lionel Blue, has left them to go off with a younger woman.
Maggie has had issues at school, often ending up with others hurt. None of which is Maggie’s fault as she is provoked into action and has the habit of seeing red. Her aunt Esme is the safe harbour of last resort. The headmistress of her new school, Fortlake, has only taken her as a personal favour to Esme.
Maggie has never felt like other kids and as a result, is a bit of a loner and does her own thing, including bunking off school. Basically, she likes to keep off everyone’s radar. Esme seems not to care what she does, just so long as she gets home to take her once a week phone call from her mother.
Esme’s garden-flat porch hosts an old looking (but young at heart) raggedy eared, battle-scarred, one-eyed tomcat. In fact, he figures boldly and delightfully illustrated on the cover.
He greets Maggie each evening with a rumbling purr that seems, to her at least, to have a jazz melody being hummed in the background. There is a reason why Esme won’t let it in, but she won’t let on.
Now, Maggie really wants to be friends with Ida, who is the best looking most popular girl in school. She even draws Ida in her notebook and tries to calculate their compatibility. After all, they share the same birthday so it must be suitable to be friends, right? WRONG! Ida hates Maggie. In fact, her nickname for her is ‘bruise’, based on her double-barrelled surname. Still, the course of friendship is not to be put off by teasing, hatred and the fact that Maggie’s notebook finds its way into Ida’s hands. As a result, Maggie is branded a stalker who’s in love with Ida and a freak whose mother had a breakdown and whose father scarpered.
With the backstory well and truly set, as all the best tales do, let us move on to the meaty bit. In fact, let’s say hello to Hoagy. Hoagy is a cat, a rather plump one-eyed cat that speaks. Much to Maggie’s surprise, he speaks to her!
Hoagy knows Dot, who happens to be a local herbalist, and some would say, witch. Dot, who seems as old as the hills, and plays a mean game of snooker from her wheelchair, asks Hoagy to watch over Maggie. She thinks there is more to this troubled teen than meets the eye.
When Ida goes missing in the local Everfall Woods, and Maggie is the only witness to the crime, things really start to get exciting. But Maggie can’t say anything to the police. Why, I hear you ask? Well, for one, she followed Ida out of school. Two, the school counsellor, Miss Cane, was with Ida just when she vanished. In fact, it was Miss Cane who dragged Ida through an open portal into a dark world beyond, having first changed into a huge wolf to do it!
Would you believe a thirteen-year-old who told you that tale and had the missing girls phone? I thought not, and nor would anyone else. This is why the ever-in-trouble Maggie stays quiet and just says she found the phone in the woods and saw Miss Cane heading into the woods too. The latter will cause her problems.
To have a friend, you need someone to call a friend. You need an actual body, an alive body. Maggie is adamant she will have Ida as her best friend, and rescuing her from this strange world and beast seems to be the way to kickstart the friendship. Sooo, she heads to Dot to see if she can help. With the aid of some instructions copied from one of Dot’s ancient books, Maggie sets off through the portal into a whole other world of darkness.
It is a world that is without The Great O, its version of Mother Nature. Without O, it is dying, lightless and for the greater part, natureless. And seemingly for all but the rich, a world without joy. Where The Great O, has gone, is a mystery.
OK, so that’s all I can really tell you. I have led you to the portal. Now you must enter this strange world, with its new creatures called Umon, and travel with Maggie to rescue her unwitting friend-to-be. Some will fall, and others will rise, and some will find answers though not necessarily what they wanted or expected. There are Moon Witches. Did I mention a magic ring, an ouroboros? Well, there is one, and it knows whose finger it wants to be on. . . .
So, what did we think?
I have to say upfront that the hero of the story for us, is Hoagy. Out and out brilliantly crafted. A finer — if somewhat proud, moody, territorial, but equally, and against his natural instinct and judgement, devoted to the girl Maggie — feline you will never meet. If you have read the Nevermoor books by Jessica Townsend, you will have come across the Hotel Deucalion’s housekeeper, Fenestra. She is a Magnificat, a talking cat, and by no means is she anything other than HUGE. Large in life with a larger than life character. In his own way, Hoagy is just like that only more so, but a standard cat size – thus far. That is an outstanding achievement in my opinion.
Maggie, who will the be humans’ favourite protagonist, is a nicely crafted, seemingly conflicted, troublesome teen. She is suitably averse to seeing good or to taking help when it is placed before her. But, her flaws are there, and she isn’t as she is for no reason. And she is mostly paying the price for things she has no real control over.
As a pair, Maggie and Hoagy really do work together well, even when they are at loggerheads in the story. For both Mrs H and me, they are the magic that drives the book along. Of course, there are some nasties too, shape shifters, and evil yellow eyed boys that change into glowing spheres. They work well as foils for Maggie and maybe surprisingly, against each other.
One tiny error in the continuity of the plot / unaccounted for change of action caught our eye, which is a shame, though you might well not see it. But it didn’t ruin our enjoyment of the story, just made Mrs H put down her sherry, take a step back and check before continuing to read to me.
This is the first in a series, and a jolly good start it is too, especially as a debut. A good plot and two interesting characters that compel engagement.
If there is a downside, it is that the story is not as abundant with lavish descriptive scenes as, say, the Ship of Shadows, which we reviewed not so long ago. Arguably, with the bleakness of the scenes/landscape in the story, maybe it doesn’t lend itself to that too much? But, I have to admit, at times I did hope and want for a bit more outside of the scenes with Maggie and Hoagy. Just wanting a bit more . . . sparkle.
As ever, we are not in the habit of marking books, as we only read and review books we enjoy, based on research, recommendations from fellow authors, and those in the know. That is our guarantee to you. However, taste is, all said and done, so very personal.
So, having mentioned our loves and reservations, would we recommend this book to our readers? The simple answer is yes. I think the characters will resonate with many, be they truculent teens or tenacious tomcats or their sometimes strange human parents and companions.
It is a fun adventure that had us waiting desperately to the last pages to shed a tear at a moment we weren’t entirely sure it would come. And no, we don’t peek at endings. And yes, Mrs H is a bit of a softie under those calloused fingers and all that chimney soot.
I hope this is a series that will continue to develop well, as I find I have developed quite a liking for Hoagy and Maggie Blue.
The next book is titled Maggie and The White Crow. I am unsure when this is due, but it is already on our list to review when a copy makes its way to the palace letterbox. Rest assured, said package will spend long on the door mat!
Want to buy a copy?
To add a copy of Maggie Blue, and some Dark World light and an encourageable feline and iracund girl into your life, then do use the nearest portal to your local enlightening independant bookshop.
Anna Goodall’s page, as set out at Guppy Books, can be found HERE.
We are not sure what book to review next week, so it will be a surprise to at least one of us!
If any publishers wish us to review their books, please do get in touch.
Thanks for dropping by. I’m off to jetwash off soot and pidgeon feathers and droppings from Mrs H, then to get the fire brigade to see if they can rescue the brush from on top of the chimney!
Until later, we wish you a week free from irascibility, shapeshifters and glowing floating yellow orbs!