Title: The Secret of Splint Hall
Author: Katie Cotton
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
Publisher: Walker Books/Andersen Press
Published: 4th May 2022
Synopsis: Two girls must unearth an ancient myth hidden deep beneath the mysterious Splint Hall…
1945. War has ended, but for sisters Flora and Isobel the struggles still continue. They’ve lost their father and had their home destroyed in a bombing raid, and now they must go to live with their aunt and her awful husband Mr Godfrey in their ancestral home, Splint Hall. From the moment of their arrival it seems that this is a place shrouded in mysteries and secrets. Who are the strange men who arrive with packages at night? What is the source of the strange blue sparks coming from the ground? And why do the locals seem to hate their family so much? As the girls begin to unearth an ancient myth and family secret, the adventure of a lifetime begins.
- Ideal for fans of Natasha Farrant and C.S. Lewis
- A magical, mystery story about grief, trauma, sibling relationships and duty
- Katie Cotton is an exciting new voice in children’s fantasy fiction
At the end of World War Two, Flora and Isobel Johnson, along with their mother, Julia, move back to Splint Hall, their ancestral home. But when they arrive, it seems everyone wishes they weren’t there. Mr Godfrey, their aunt’s cold husband, is keeping secrets, and doesn’t want them there. The people in the village are suspicious of them, because of something Mr Godfrey did during the war. So Flora and Isobel set themselves the task of finding out what is going on and join forces with local boys Simon and Pat to find out the secret of Splint Hall, save the village, and restore the faith and trust in the family as an ancient secret threatens to destroy them all.
This was another lovely post-war book that reflects on the war, and how it affected people, especially as the rations are ongoing. The ration system plays a large part in this book, and something linked to rations and Mr Godfrey is one of the mysteries Flora and Isobel must solve to save their family. As Flora and Isobel grapple with their own trauma and grief, it seems everyone must make sure what they are feeling doesn’t intrude on what Mr Godfrey is feeling and his time – so Mum tries to keep Flora and Isobel out of his way. Yet there is something that needs to be uncovered, and I loved the way that Flora and Isobel uncovered the mystery of Splint Hall, because it showed a fantastic working relationship and what it means to overcome your fears – even if it means putting yourself in danger.
I love this kind of book – magic, adventure, friends, family, and a touch of history as the characters confront obstacles and learn to get along. It felt reminiscent of Narnia – four kids, two boys and two girls – in this case, two sets of siblings – seeking to save the world. In this instance, the magical aspect was part of the real world, rather than a fantasy land found through a wardrobe. And it had fewer obstacles, though I felt that Pat, Flora, Simon, and Isobel could fit just as well in Narnia as the Pevensies. Both sets of characters had a quest to save the world. Both sets had to make sure an evil person didn’t achieve their goals. And both sets of characters dealt with magical creatures. Splint Hall is also its own world, and its own story, and this is what made it truly special for me, because even if there are similar themes in many fantasy books, there will always be something that sets them apart from each other.
For The Secret at Splint Hall, it was the way the two families were connected and intertwined with the secret of Splint Hall. I loved that there was ongoing tension, and the way it was resolved was done well. I loved that the adults knew some things, but not others. And it was the slow, evocative, and adventurous way that Flora and Isobel solved the mystery that made the book a special adventure for me. It made me want to read it again immediately, and it felt comforting but confronting at the same time – and it might be a good way to discuss war with younger readers because we get to see the after effects of the war through the eyes of child characters, which I think is an effective way to start talking about war, as it makes it relatable for younger readers. I loved the way this book ended as well, as it felt triumphant and joyous, and gave the book a special something that anyone who reads this will love.