Her perilous mansion by Sean Williams
Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760877361.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Almanac, an orphan named for his prodigious memory is asked to go to a manor house to be second butler. At a loss understanding what is going on when no one greets him, he meets Etta, the youngest of twelve daughters, come to work as a chambermaid in the same house. Neither has any idea of how they came to be there, why they are there or what is expected of them. Convinced the house is under a spell, Etta thinks she will be able to put things right if only she can find the library. A phone call from Dr Mithilty sends them upstairs and eventually they find her in the attic room, but leave without any of their questions answered.
While preparing their meal, the ingredients having mysteriously appeared, what they think are rats in the chimney introduces himself as Ugo, and further introduces the woman who lives in the pipes, Olive. Etta comes to believe that all the people they have met, or rather not met, must be ghosts and she struggles to find the spell to undo this enchantment, while Almanac spends his days clearing out the cellars, often grumbling to himself about Etta.
This is a wonderful read, full of twists and red herrings, humour and laughs: voices up the chimney, people buried under bedclothes, figures only partly seen, a seemingly endless stockpile of rubbish needing clearing in the cellar, while the more they look the more rooms and wings they find in the sprawling manor house. The two children keep on trying to work out what is going on, each suspicious of the other as the reader is scooped up at a brisk pace for an amazingly mysterious journey.
Striving to escape, the children find they are prisoners, but Etta manages to climb over the gate, Almanac grumbling that she has deserted him. But he hears her in the house and tracks her down to the tiny scullery, where she has been incarcerated with the rest of the ghosts. It is up to Almanac to set them all free.
Highly original, the detailed descriptions give an authentic backdrop to the story, while each of the characters, even Ugo in the chimney, has a strongly identifiable and individual voice. A fabulous read.
Themes: Fantasy, Orphans, Magic, Adventure.