Is there a name for this sub-genre of children's books -- Victorian intrigue, perhaps? There seem to be a few of them around at the moment, with resourceful, sometimes paranormally gifted heroines: Susan Green's lively Verity Sparks series, Jen Storer's spooky Tensy Farlow, and now Judith Rossell's delightful Withering-By-Sea, which promises to be the first of a series of Stella Montgomery adventures. Rossell's lovely blue ink illustrations lend a special atmosphere to this beautifully produced volume.

Stella lives in a big hotel with her three creepy aunts in a gloomy town by the sea, but it doesn't take long before she is up to her neck in mystery -- a burglary that takes place by the light of a dead man's hand, a murder that is not all it seems, a sinister bottle with a supernatural secret. A cast of colourful characters, including many cats, help Stella out, but the central mystery of her parentage is left unresolved -- for now.

For me, all these books seem to share a line of inheritance descending from Joan Aiken -- I found lovely echoes of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the seminal Victorian intrigue, for my money) with a sprinkling of Dido Twite. I adored Aiken's novels and I hope that a new generation might re-discover them, led by the hand by Stella, Verity, Tensy and the rest. But I guess that current fans of the genre might have enough reading to be getting on with!


  1. Hello Kate - I also enjoyed Withering-by-Sea - and saw the Joan Aiken connection. I still have my read and re-read and re-re-read copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - those books still simmer away in the back of my mind as an inspiration. IN fact, I'm about to start an 'altered history' Victorian fantasy/adventure of my own. HOpe all's well with you,

  2. Ooh, goody! Can't wait :)

    My well-worn copy of Willoughby Chase is signed by the author - the first author-signed book I ever acquired. It was at the Little Bookroom in the 80s I think, and I was over-awed.

    Hope all is well with you too!