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The School Between Winter and Fairyland by Heather Fawcett

Title: The School Between Winter and Fairyland

A boy and a girl in front of a castle with a dog and a cat. The girl wears a blue cloak and has white hair. The boy has a black uniform and black hair.

Author: Heather Fawcett

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 14th September 2021

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A spell-binding tale of magic, monsters and mystery, set in an enchanted boarding school. Full of suspense and exquisitely written, this is middle-grade fantasy at its best – and most original – for fans of Nevermoor.

Twelve-year-old Autumn is a beastkeeper at Inglenook School for Magicians, which she secretly dreams of attending as a student. Instead, she must care for Inglenook’s menagerie of dangerous creatures so the king’s future monster hunters can study them. But when she isn’t mucking out the griffin stalls, Autumn searches for clues about her twin brother’s mysterious disappearance. Everyone else thinks that he was devoured by the terrifying Hollow Dragon, but Autumn isn’t so sure.

Enter Cai Morrigan, the famous young magician prophesied to one day destroy the Hollow Dragon. When Cai comes to Autumn with a secret problem, Autumn agrees to help on one condition: that the ‘Chosen One’ join her quest to find her brother. Together they uncover the dark truth that lies at the heart of Inglenook School – because every school has its secrets…

‘This book has everything I love about fantasy, tied together with gorgeous writing, vivid visuals and a gutsy, down-to-earth heroine.’ Amelia Mellor, author of The Grandest Bookshop in the World

~*~

Autumn, beastkeeper at Inglenook School for Magicians, dreams of attending as a student. Yet her fate is tied to caring for the magical beasts at the school and must watch students like Cai Morrigan and Gawain attend. Yet Autumn is also looking for her twin brother, who has disappeared into a parallel world with other kids. When Autumn meets Cai, who is destined to destroy the Hollow Dragon. When he asks Autumn to help – but she wants something from him too. She knows that Inglenook School has a dark secret, and she is determined to uncover what it possibly has to do with her brother, Winter’s, disappearance – if anything at all.

All school has its secrets, and much like other fictional schools in fantasy and children’s literature, like the Wunder institute in Nevermoor, as well as magical places such as the Hotel Deucalion, and Inglenook is set to take its place amidst these places, and is filled with everything we love about fantasy, the familiar tropes and creatures and a some new ones that come to life vividly and vibrantly alongside the fabulous and intriguing characters, as they try to uncover the secrets that haunt them and threaten to change everything that they know.

I loved the way Heather pulled at the threads of traditional fantasy and turned it into something timeless and unique, yet that also sits comfortably along what we already know and love in the fantasy, magical school genre, ensuring that there is something familiar to draw kids and readers in as they engage with the original story and themes, the creatures and people that populate this wintry landscape and world. There’s a definite chill in the air – purely atmosphere – and allows the reader to imagine a world far from what they know, yet with hints of familiarity.

This is a delightful new fantasy story that will capture the imagination of middle grade readers, fantasy lovers and readers who love stories about plucky girls and their sidekicks, and the magic of friendship. Cai and Autumn’s friendship grows throughout the novel despite the judgement and curiosity of peripheral characters that float in and out and give a stark image of the differences in class and the roles that everyone has to play in the story and at the school.

I love novels like this. It is filled with magic, friendship, a magic school and mystery, and shows that boys and girls can be friends, and can work together without the complexities of romance that we often see in young adult and adult literature getting in the way. Perhaps that is what draws me so much to middle grade books – the high presence of friendship and the importance it has – it is a universal theme that can play out in all settings and genres and can take many different forms based on what the story needs. The School Between Winter and Fairyland is a new favourite, and one that is sure to charm and engage confident middle grade readers. It’s long, involved and text heavy, so for those seeking a meaty read that will keep them going, this is one to look out for, and one that I hope many will enjoy just as I did.

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