Wakestone Hall by Judith Rossell
A Stella Montgomery Intrigue Book book 3. ABC Books, 2018,
(Age: 9-12) Highly recommended.Themes: Family, School Life, Mystery, Belonging. Judith Rossell's marvellous magical Victorian series comes to a conclusion with Wakestone Hall. She has captured the hearts and minds of many young and older readers who have taken Stella Montgomery to heart.
Orphan Stella Montgomery's life has been filled with tragedy, drama and heartache. She has discovered new friends, learnt self-reliance and discovered an inner magical self. Stella is packed off to Wakestone Hall, her three aunts and her mother's former boarding school. Here it is expected that she will learn to follow the guidelines, live by the strict rules and become an obedient child. Stella's unhappy and finds school life most difficult. There are so many regulations, from no conversation after lights out and no arising from their bed until morning. Late one night Stella rescues a cat from the rooftops, and so begins a chain of events that leads her down a different and dangerous path. Ottilie and Agapanthus the two new girls assist Stella in releasing the cat and they become secret friends. Miss Garnet the head-mistress, a strict disciplinarian, is hiding a cruel secret that Stella needs to solve as well. She wants to know more about her poor mother's history and delves into her aunts' school life as well. Ottilie's mother has disappeared and the young girl looks for clues on their school excursions to the museum and gardens. When Ottilie is kidnapped by the evil men from the Fair, Stella and Agapanthus step up to investigate.
Their dangerous mission leads them behind the scenes at the fairground, where they are chased by the evil Gabbro Brothers. Stella and Agapanthus meet two young boys, scrappers who make a living by searching the underground passages under the town looking for anything that can be sold to make money. Through underground passages, in slum apartments, driven by the need to find answers and a sense of belonging, Stella and her friends learn resilience as they rely on each other's' abilities.
Rossell's world-building is shaded with darkness and light, beautifully written with powerful messages of hope, growing into one's true self, belonging, acceptance and resilience. Her gorgeous purple-toned illustrations and vignettes, bring the Victorian era alive. Her evocative characters heighten the elements of good and evil, and her touch of magic adds to the delight of reading these stories. Fans both young and older, myself included will be saddened by the end of Stella Montgomery's journey.