ALFIE BLOOM & THE SECRETS OF HEXBRIDGE CASTLE by Gabrielle Kent

It was the cover that got Moontrug first: dragon claws, ravens, a mysterious castle and a child… The perfect ingredients for an 8+ years fantasy book. And within the first few pages, Moontrug was completely hooked on Gabrielle Kent’s debut, Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle.

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Alfie’s Bloom’s life is dull and lonely, until the day he meets the mysterious Caspian Bone and learns of his incredible fortune. Alfie is heir to a castle full of wonders that has been sealed for centuries. And so he begins a life beyond his wildest dreams. But deep below the castle lies its darkest secret, one that Alfie must protect at all costs or risk losing everything…

The opening chapters have that ‘I want to climb into this book’ feel: a crotchety old lady (who disapproves of whistling, tropical fruit, sandals, children who don’t open doors for her and children who assume she needs doors opened for her) encountering something dark and mysterious in the middle of the night. And so begins a story narrated with all the warmth and charm of a wonderful children’s book. The magic is enthralling (flying carriages that pick you up at precisely 11:26pm, castles that will seal themselves if not lived in, secret studies filled with powders, herbs liquids and books as bizarre as Predicting Plagues and Blizzards with Lizards’ Gizzards), the characters are brilliantly named (Lord Snoddington, Evelyn Murkle and Edwina Snitch) and the sense of adventure is endless. Moontrug especially loved the wonderful bear skin rug, Artan, who flies Alfie and his friends over London at night (because the moon would take a while and they’d need sandwiches and a jumper for the journey) and swoops in to help them when the magic turns dark…

The friendship between Alfie, Robin and Madeleine is really well drawn and Moontrug loved the humour Madeleine brought to the story, particularly when she carves the boys’ faces into ugly pumpkins… And the villains, Murkle and Snith, are deliciously evil – Moontrug was genuinely creeped out when they were chasing the children through the underground tunnel. Kent invites the reader to look for the magic behind everyday things – of headteachers who might not be what they seem and of houses which have a mind of their own. As Alfie’s Dad says: ‘The world is a magnificent, magical place with so much left to be discovered.’ Alfie Bloom boasts wonderful storytelling coupled with a magic that stays with you long after the final page – a cracking debut and fans will be excited to learn that a sequel is due out in 2016. YIPPEE!

PS. Always carry a water pistol with you. Just in case, you know…