COLD TOM. By Sally Prue. Oxford University Press, pound;6.99
THE WITCH IN THE LAKE. By Anna Fienberg. Allen amp; Unwin, pound;5.50
CLEMENTINE. By Sophie Masson. Hodder Children's Books, pound;4.99
THE IVY CROWN. By Gill Vickery. Hodder Children's Books, pound;4.99
Sally Prue's debut novel Cold Tom has a beautiful cover studded with silver stars. It carries an endorsement from Michael Morpurgo and has received a great deal of advance publicity. It has also been shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for first-time novelists.
Economically and elegantly written, it tells the tale of a fairy on the run from his own folk, who ends up being sheltered and protected by children of what he calls The Tribe. These are human beings, and one of the good things about this book is the matter-of-fact way the author assumes that the worlds of humans and fairies lie side by side and overlap.
It's a version of the Tam Lin story, with original touches, such as a good description of what it must be like to become invisible. A shed in the garden of a suburban house provides the unglamorous setting that contrasts with the world Tom has left behind. An interesting story that lives up to expectations.
The Witch in the Lake is set in Italy, during the Renaissance. This gives an added atmosphere to an exciting story of magic, transformation, fear and love, in which Leo has to fight the malign influence of a bad witch placed in the lake by an evil wizard. How he manages to rid the community of this scourge in their midst makes for a good read on many levels. It moves swiftly, and is not afraid of special effects which the author produces, particularly towards the novel's end, with great gusto. Anna Fienberg is Australian and the name of her heroine (Merilee) is not very Italian, but this is a small quibble.
Another Australian, Sophie Masson, has produced an unexpected take on Sleeping Beauty. It assumes that Aurora has a friend Clementine, who was raised with her in the forest by the wise women who looked after the princess since she was cursed at her christening.
In this version, the old magic meets the new magic of science and the ideas that led to the French Revolution. It is well written and the detail of court life and ways is enthralling. This book will appeal to anyone who has loved the fairytale, for all the trappings are present and correct. There are even two delightful talking horses. A fabulous novel which has been given the cover it deserves.
The Ivy Crown was a worthy winner of the Kathleen Fidler Award (another award for first-time novelists). Vickery has assembled all the elements that make a good, spooky story (old haunted house, witches, revenge, a forgotten tune, an antique violin, ravens, owls, bats, and so on) and put them together with the real-life story of a family struggling to come to terms with grief at the death of a mother.
It's well-structured and well-written, and will raise shivers in its readers as well as move them to tears. Megan feels guilt at not having obeyed her dying mother's last wish; and Brand, her younger brother, thinks he may have brought the death about. The power of music, the exploration of past wrongs and their expiation, and the carefully observed and described modern family relationships make for a very good novel.
Adele Geras's 'Tower Room' trilogy, which combines themes from classic fairy tales and a 1950s setting, has been republished by Red Fox.