Wormwood Mire and Wakestone Hall


I read the first book in Judith Rossell's charming trilogy, Withering-by-Sea, when it first came out in 2014, but it's taken me a while to catch up with the further adventures of Stella Montgomery. I found Wormwood Mire in a street library, and then borrowed the final volume, Wakestone Hall, from the 'real' library. (At a school I visited this week, one student nominated Wormwood Mire as their 'desert island' book, so they are obviously well-loved.)

These books are beautifully produced, with delightful illustrations by Rossell herself. (Why don't kids' books have illustrations anymore? They can add so much to the reading experience! I know why, it's money.) Additionally, the hardbacks have ribbon bookmarks, and the text is produced in coloured ink -- Withering-by-Sea in blue, Wormwood Mire in green, and Wakestone Hall in purple. The whole package is a sensory pleasure to read.

A few years ago, there seemed to be a rash of books by Australian authors about magical young girls, set in Victorian England. I'm thinking of Susan Green's Verity Sparks, Jen Storer's Tensy Farlow, Karen Foxlee's A Most Magical Girl, and there may have been others. Stella Montgomery, who can fade into invisibility at will, fits neatly into this category, and each book in the series reveals a little more about her heritage until at the end of Wakestone Hall, she is fully reunited with her family (though I was a little sorry not to see more the gloriously hideous trio of aunts who made Stella's life a misery in Withering-by-Sea). I'm not sure if this was intentional, but each book in the trilogy follows a similar pattern, with Stella encountering some kind of fair or circus and becoming entangled with a villain as well as allies. I especially loved the mysterious book of silhouettes kept by the headmistress of Wakestone Hall, which enforces a chilling obedience on the girls in her charge.

These books are thoroughly delightful and wrapped up Stella's story in a very satisfying way.

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