Wormwood Mire: A Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell
ABC Books, 2016. ISBN 9780733333019
Warning: This review will be chockers with fulsome praise and expressions of delight.
From the point I took this book from its package two days ago I was in love with it.
We know that you can indeed judge a book by its cover often and looking at the beautiful artwork of this novel and stroking its textured surface was like holding a plush box of chocolates and greedily anticipating the contents.
And I was not disappointed. A gorgeously bound book with wonderful creamy pages, full page illustrations, embellishments and font all in a forest green this just oozes style and superiority.
After Stella's first adventure (Withering-by-Sea) the nasty Aunts are icily furious and ponder what to do with such an unsuitable child. They grasp the opportunity to send her to the old family home where their cousin is going to have his two (also motherless) children taught by a governess (hah! Expense-free solution) and so Stella is packed off to Wormwood Mire, a decaying mansion set in huge overgrown grounds. Her initial trepidation is relieved when she meets Strideforth and Hortense, her two cousins, both of whom are quirky in their own ways. She is further reassured by Miss Araminter the governess who is at the very least eccentric but extremely kind and sensitive.
Before she departed the gloomy house of Aunts Stella had discovered an old photograph which she has identified as being of her mother at Wormwood Mire with two babies in an old-fashioned pram - two babies? Did she once have a sister or twin? She is determined to solve the mystery of this while she is in the crumbling family ruin. But Wormwood Mire holds many secrets. The children's ancestor Wilberforce Montgomery who built the house was a traveller and collector of the curious and bizarre; objects, plants and animals. And there is something all the villagers are terrified by but won't talk about. What is it and will the children be able to discover the menace - and survive it?
What a sensational read this is! The narrative flows perfectly from eddy to whirlpool to backwater and the reader is carried along effortlessly. For me it would have been a one sitting read had I not had to get up early the next morning. As it was I had to save the last few chapters but quickly polished them off, savouring every word. Stella is indomitable - a Mighty Girl in every sense - she has courage and intelligence and empathy. There is also the mysterious power she possesses. She is a perfect foil for Strideforth, the essential scientific mind (at times with less than perfect success) and strange wild little Hortense, who is more often than not like the little creatures she adopts. I cannot recommend this highly enough - of course, those who loved Judith's Withering-by-Sea will be eager to get their hands on it - but for those who have not yet been introduced to Stella and her hidden otherworldly talent, it will also be a joy to read.