‘In Darkling Wood’ by Emma Carroll

Emma Carroll has given us ghosts and tight-rope walkers; now it’s time for fairies in her 2015 release for 9+ years: In Darkling Wood. When Alice’s brother gets a longed-for chance for a heart transplant, Alice is suddenly bundled off to her estranged grandmother’s house. There’s nothing good about staying with Nell, except for the beautiful Darkling Wood at the end of her garden – but Nell wants to have it cut down. Alice feels at home there, at peace, and even finds a friend, Flo. But Flo doesn’t seem to go to the local school and no one in town has heard of a girl with that name. When Flo shows Alice the surprising secrets of Darkling Wood, Alice starts to wonder, what is real? And can she find out in time to save the wood from destruction?

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Right from the opening line: ‘At 3.23am the hospital call to say a heart’s been found’ we know Carroll means business. With elements from the book based on the true story of young cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths from Cottingley, near Bradford, who claimed in 1917 to have seen fairies, Carroll weaves Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and letters from a sister to her older brother on The Front Line with Alice’s move to the countryside to stay with her stern grandmother. Alice’s world is turned upside down when her mother decides she’s to stay with Nell, in a gloomy house surrounded by dark trees. And Carroll perfectly captures Alice’s anxiety towards her brother’s illness, the children at her new school, her relationship with her distant father and the mystery at the heart of Darkling Wood. The magic Carroll conjures is spine-tinglingly real… This isn’t fairies in tutus prancing about; this is fairy rings and doors, wearing hats inside out to prevent trickery and air that seems to ‘ripple, like the surface of a pond after a stone is thrown in.’

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We have feisty heroines to contend with – Alice, Ella and Flo – and a gorgeous dog called Borage who ‘leans like a human when we take corners’ in the car. The plot is full of intrigue as characters discover the truth about the past – but above all the story sings of hope, a hope that is all the more powerful when set against the atrocities of the First World War, a hope that is big enough to stir magic deep inside an ancient wood. With a stunning cover by Julian De Narvaez and a sensitive, yet powerfully told story, this is a book readers of 9+ years will love. And excitingly, Emma Carroll has a novella, The Snow Sister, ready for us this Autumn – publishing on 1st October… Moontrug can’t wait.