Kim Newman’s The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School has a great opening for a novel and a great idea for a plot. When Amy’s mother finds her asleep on the ceiling she sends her away to a boarding school for unusual girls hoping that she will be cured of her ‘differences’. Fortunately for Amy, her new headmistress manages to ignore Amy’s magical tendencies which will be really useful later in the plot.
If you think this sounds a little like a Harry Potter adventure then think again. Although the idea of a boarding school setting may be familiar, and the story is as dark at its heart as the later Potter novels, this story is set in the early Twentieth century during the First World War.
Amy settles well into her new environment despite day-to-day bullying, forms great friendships, and has a few fun adventures in her first term starting up her secret Moth Club. Because Amy is a likeable and fair minded character she does her best to defend the new girl, Rayne, who starts in Amy’s second term. Rayne is not all she seems though; she needs no help from people like Amy and has soon asserted herself as the new leader of the school. Rayne does this in such a subtle and insidious manner that it’s truly resonant of the rise of the Third Reich. Students are soon turning a blind eye to major injustices because they realise it’s far easier than defending what is right and eventually Amy finds she has very few friends left.Stylistically Newman has tackled the school takeover in a skilful way; the changes are very subtle, so much so that even the characters in the plot are barely aware of the alterations taking place. Unfortunately this means that the plot loses some of its drive and I did find myself wishing it would speed up a little. I also found the false ending too disruptive to the overall pace and would have liked a speedier resolution.
That said Drearcliff Grange was genuinely creepy with a serious message at its heart, that if you ignore injustices they have a way of finding their way back to your door. I liked Kim Newman’s characters, his ideas and the novel’s plot, so I’ll definitely be looking out for his books in the future.
The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School was published by Titan on 23 October 2015.