Moontrug likes to make a habit of doing the opposite of what most other people are doing: she goes down up escalators, rushes out into thunderstorms and eats pizza with a lot of ketchup. So perhaps it was unsurprising when, on the hottest day of the year so far, she decided to read the most wintry-named book she could find: Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll.
In the middle of a frozen lake, a girl is skating. She’s not supposed to be here. No one is. Not since Kit Barrington drowned at Frost Hollow Hall ten years ago. But the dead don’t scare Tilly Higgins. The ice is thin. It cracks. Suddenly she’s under the water, drowning. Near death, a strange spirit appears to her, a boy so beautiful Tilly is sure he’s an angel. But he’s a ghost. A very troubled ghost. And he desperately needs her help…
So, Moontrug reckons there are four basic things that make a brilliant book:
1. a strong narrative voice
2. an engaging protagonist
3. an original plot
4. a captivating setting
And Emma Carroll managed to nail each one! She even chucked in a gorgeous guy called Will Potter – and he’s as fanciable as Will from Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife. Well done, Carroll. We like.
The mysterious setting of Frost Hollow Hall lures you in from the start, just as it does Tilly: ‘like I’d been tied with an invisible thread and someone at the Hall was on the other end of it, reeling me in.’ There is something of Conan Doyle’s Baskerville Hall and Joan Aiken’s Willoughby Chase in Carroll’s Frost Hollow Hall. It’s a place beckoning both Tilly and her friend, Will, in – luring them towards secrets and ghosts: ‘It had got colder. By now the sun was low and red in the sky, and the air so still not even the trees stirred. High above my head, rooks circled and cawed to each other. At my back, the copse grew darker.’ But Carroll’s settings aren’t just helpful backdrops – they’re at the forefront of her brilliantly written action scenes: ‘Black, stinking water spewed over the ice. It sucked at my skirts. And it was cold. So cold it knocked the breath clean out of me… Slowly, gently, the lake closed over my head and all went quiet but for the blood pounding in my ears. I went down and down into blackness.’
Tilly is a fantastic heroine, as feisty as Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua and as brave as Borrough’s India Bentley. Will Potter might have dares in store for her but as Tilly says, ‘Now I’ve got a dare for you.’ She’s not afraid to thump Will – and Moontrug loved the way their friendship developed. Tilly might feel all alone at Frost Hollow Hall with its dark secrets and grief-stricken mistress, but in the background there is Will’s loyalty, humour and bravery – and set against Tilly’s impoverished family life and the eerie circumstances she finds herself in, that’s kinda cool. Carroll presents the ghostly aspects of the plot in a subtle yet powerfully frightening way: ‘The whispering started just inches from my ear, a hissing, lisping sound that made my scalp prickle. I shrank back in horror. Tried to pull free. But the grip was fierce. Fingernails bit through the sleeve of my frock.’ The unravelling of the secrets stored at Frost Hollow Hall is brilliantly done and keeps you enthralled page after page after page. Frost Hollow Hall is a fantastic mystery story for 9-12s and I can’t wait to read Carroll’s latest book, out August 2014, The Girl Who Walked On Air. This is an author to watch…