Few middle grade titles are written by a person that played a huge part in a cult children’s tv series, but this debut title from Holly Rivers is a welcome example of just that. Holly played Drusilla Paddock, best friend to Mildred Hubble in the original tv series of The Worst Witch aired in the late 1990’s so my initial expectations were this book would take readers into the world of magic, and that it would do so in a way that made it feel as though we have been given privileged access into a world Holly feels completely at home in. This book far exceeded my expectations.
We meet Demelza, the story’s main character who has a goth like appeal, as she prepares to sneak around after bedtime, inventing things that she deems useful to solving problems she and those around her have been faced with. You instantly fall in love with her crazy yet logical (to her at least!) approach to everything, and you feel pride in this strong, independent female that absolutely loves STEM, a much needed and welcome role model to other girls looking for acceptance in the world of Science and Engineering. Living with her Grandma, it is an all women, powerful line up.
During one of her planned sneak arounds Demelza and her friend -a slight oddball called Percy- discover the existence of Spectre Detectors and that not only is Grandma is one of them but it seems Demelza has started to exhibit signs of having what it takes to join the ‘family business’ too. After much speculation and having to see it for herself Demelza realises that it is all real, and is warned that even though they use their abilities to recall ghosts for those still alive to bid a proper farewell to there are others that would use them for evil. Discretion is key.
Unfortunately Demelza gives the game away by accident to the wrong person and things escalate out of control and conclude with her Grandma being kidnapped from their family home, devastating an already guilt ridden Demelza. She knows this was all because of her mistake and that she has to do everything in her power to fix it, so she confides in Percy, and together they go to places completely out of their comfort zone in a bid to get help and find out who is behind all of this and stop them.
This is an adventure story that allows you to believe that the world of magic exists just outside of our grasp, and that it isn’t scary at all – in fact there is a lot of fun to be had there. The story flows naturally as you read, allowing you to become immersed in Demelza’s world and enjoy the attention to detail offered as well as the plot of the story which encourages readers to believe in the impossible and stay true to themselves.
As part of a book series I cannot wait for the next instalment, to be able to return to the world of thinking caps, talking skulls and Percy’s pink bunny slippers is now high on my list and will definitely be so for the readers that enjoy this book. With illustrations from Alex.T.Smith accompanying the text throughout the book there is no doubt that readers will take great delight in this book, cherishing it amongst their bookshelves in anticipation of what’s to come – because with a brave, tenacious main character like Demelza you are left feeling that this is only the beginning of her showcasing what she is truly capable of and that what comes next will be just as powerful.
Demelza and The Spectre Detectors is published by Chicken House, and is available from 6th February 2020.