Title: Orla and the Serpent’s Curse
Author: C.J. Halsam
Genre: Magical Realism
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 1st June 2020
Synopsis: A spooky adventure set in Cornwall; Famous Five with a twist.
A long-dead Cornish witch to thwart and a curse to stop – it’s just another family holiday. Orla thought she was in for a relaxing break, but when she finds a mysterious glowing necklace in the woods, it turns out there is a slight possibility she may have uncovered a witch’s ancient curse. After meeting a coven of suspicious old ladies, it becomes clear that Orla’s arrival in Cornwall is no longer a coincidence. The curse is poisoning the land and destroying everything it touches, and Orla is the one person who can stop it. But she’ll need help from the only other member of the family with good instincts – Dave the dog.
- A witchy 10+ children’s debut from Sunday Timesjournalist C. J. Haslam.
- Orla is a budding conservationist and the curse in the book manifests itself through poisoned and barren land.
- Has an incredibly appealing character in Dave, the grumpy Jack Russell who thinks he’s a member of Special Forces. Orla has two older brothers and a newly acquired friend called Raven – together, they make a great modern-day Scooby Doo gang / Famous Five.
Orla Perry is off to Cornwall with her mum, brothers, Tom and Richard, and faithful dog, Dave. They arrive at the cottage – but their holiday is far from relaxing. After Orla begins to explore their new surrounds and meets Mrs Spark and her friends, after she finds a mysterious necklace in the woods. This is only the beginning of her problems. As the story moves along, Dave distances himself from Orla, the old ladies Orla has met begin to tell her of witches and curses, and a woman called Pedervander Masey, and a mystery surrounding the area that is slowly revealed as Orla and her brothers and their new friend, Raven, seek to uncover the truth behind all the darkness of the area.
To save the land from the curse, Orla, Raven, Tom and Richard must follow a strange set of directions and an unusual path with items from one of the resident witches, or pellers, as they are called in this novel, to prevent the curse from poisoning the land – even if this means travelling back in time. What is it about the mysterious glowing necklace that draw Orla to it – and what trouble is it causing? With dark magic at work, Orla is drawn to the desire to investigate and find out what is going on – and stop the curse from destroying those she loves, and anyone else in the area. She’s a gutsy girl, and seeing the breadth of the types of characters children can relate to these days.
Set in the same area as many of the Famous Five books, this is a fresh tale on the idea of adventuring and gallivanting children – minus the lashings of ginger beer with added magic and spells. It is filled with wonder and danger, and can be scary in some parts, in particular the climax, which is where the high stakes scenes take place in most books. This is a fantastic book, and one I loved to review for Walker Books Australia – the middle grade landscape these days is a wonderful array of books, and there are many more that I am going to be exploring in coming reviews.
We all need a bit of magic in our lives, and in this book, it is delivered in spades. Tragedy happens in some places, and the kids go off on the adventures as they do in The Famous Five, but there is still a parental figure around, though she’s got no idea what Orla and her brothers are up to during their holiday.
This world really came to life – everything had an element of magic within in, and for someone who has never been to Cornwall, but would like to one day, the sense of place in past and present, from the cottage of the sea, and the surrounding countryside and forest. The setting is as much a character as the human characters, and Dave is one of the best characters – an astute dog who knows who he can trust and who to help, it is instincts that will help save the day.
Filled with magic, mystery, humour and the thrill of the cashes, Orla and the Serpent’s Curse is a delightful middle grade novel for readers aged ten and over.