12-year-old Lettie Peppercorn lives in an inn on stilts in the land of Albion; her best friends are a pigeon and the wind that whistles through the gaps in the walls; her mother disappeared years ago leaving behind only a cryptic note; and her father is a drinker and a gambler who leaves her in charge as the landlady of the inn.
Her life changes completely when a stranger comes to town – a stranger with a suitcase containing something no-one has ever seen before – snow.
Lettie sets off on an adventure to discover the truth about her family and herself, aided by her new friend Noah, a boy with a plant growing out of his shoulder, and hindered by the sinister but incompetent snow merchant.
The book is an alchemical adventure, based on the principle that everything changes – and the hugely imaginative story is packed full of transformations from the comic to the grotesque to the beautiful. One of the most difficult things when writing about magic is to make it consistent and logical, and Sam Gayton does a wonderful job of that in this book. The magic infuses every page of the book, and never once does it feel forced or illogical.
There’s a refreshingly old-fashioned feel to the book, too, with a pair of grotesques known as the Walrus and the Goggler who might have come from the pages of Roald Dahl (or even Dickens) and provide much of the comic relief.
(The best joke of the book, though, is the whalers’ tavern called the Clam Before the Storm.)
The story rattles on at a fantastic pace, Lettie and her friend Noah are thoroughly engaging characters, and the conclusion is satisfying and heart-warming. Highly recommended.