Orla and the Serpent's Curse by C.J. Haslam
Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781406388480. 300pp.
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Twelve year old Orla and her family head off on a much needed holiday to Cornwall. The believable banter on the car trip reveals her older brother Richard is vain and only concerned there won't be any WiFi at their destination, her younger brother Tom is annoying and her mother is exhausted. We also soon become privy to the humorous thoughts of Dave, their pet Jack Russell. The family have been invited to stay in a cottage, which Orla is told once belonged to a witch. Orla is keen to get out and explore this coastal environment but observes that the area is weirdly bereft of virtually all animals. She discovers an ancient necklace that has extraordinary powers and is keenly sought after by modern day witches (or pellers). Her nightmares become real events which involve an incident that occurred two hundred years ago between a witch and pirate. Orla is descended from this witch and has the power to prevent a pending disaster but she needs to enlist the help of her brothers, a new friend and Dave. They must also keep their mother from knowing what they are doing. It becomes a race to beat an evil peller, who is seemingly a sweet old lady, and stop the necklace from creating global mayhem.
You need to keep your wits about you in this action packed fantasy. There's a lot to keep track of with time travel, potions and spells, shipwrecks, a bit of Cornish folklore and many grim deaths. Although there are serious moments the author off-sets this with many colourful characters and humour. The entertaining conversation keeps you interested. Orla is smart and brave, as is Dave the dog! It will suit a confident reader around 11 years plus, who will hopefully enjoy this tale of witchcraft with a healthy dose of scepticism. It is original in the way it combines so many fantasy elements but in a modern world.