I’m a bit late to the party with Gabrielle Kent’s debut novel. Alfie Bloom’s second adventure, Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief, was released just recently, so I thought it was about time I got on board.
There’s a pattern to books of this type – a young protagonist with an old-fashioned British first name receives a letter telling him about his magical inheritance, and he’s thrown into a world of magic and mystery with monsters and villains, usually accompanied by two companions – a boy and a girl. It’s almost a sub-genre of its own!
So it’s the details that count – the richness of invention, the wonder of the magic, how engaging the characters are, how villainous the villains act; it’s about the pace, the excitement, and the thrill of the adventure. And in these respects, Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is a cracking read.
Alfie Bloom lives in a boring city in a boring flat with his interesting but often distant inventor Dad. So when he receives a letter from the enigmatic lawyer Caspian Bone (great name!) that he’s inherited Hexbridge Castle from the last druid Orin Hopcraft, he jumps at the chance of a new life.
After all, it’s not every day that a druid gives you a castle, is it?
Of course, this raises more questions than it answers. Orin Hopcraft lived hundreds of years ago, and the castle has stood locked and empty since then. So how did it happen that the last druid left Alfie the castle? And that’s not the only secret of Hexbridge Castle…
Alfie has to solve these mysteries, deal with villains who want the secrets of the castle for themselves, and investigate the strange disappearances of animals every new moon. But it turns out the stakes are even higher than he could imagine.
He’s accompanied in his adventures by his cousins Madeleine and Robin, the explorer and the walking encyclopedia. They’re aided by cryptic messages from Orin Hopcraft, delivered by the enigmatic Caspian Bone. Artan is a great character – I loved his sense of humour – and helps provide transport of a magical kind. Then there’s the butler Ashford, who’s oh-so-helpful, but has secrets of his own. The roster of characters is rich and inventive.
There’s never a dull moment. The plot cracks on at a thrilling pace, and there’s a satisfying emotional rollercoaster as Alfie’s fortunes rise and fall. The denouement wraps things up nicely, but there’s enough mystery left to leave you satisfied with the story while still wanting more adventures – and that’s the sign of the start of a great series.