Tuesday 3 March 2015

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

 Published by Stripes Publishing 2015
352 pages
Cover design by Ali Ardington
Summary from publisher’s website
Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind…
Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lillias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin.
The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.
From the vintage-set prologue, Frozen Charlotte is distinctly eerie. With china dolls that have minds of their own and schoolgirls conducting tiny funerals, you know it isn’t going to become a jolly holiday romance. Alex Bell handles many of the scary tropes we know and love – if that’s the right word – with skill. 
The main part of the tale takes place in the present day with our point of view heroine Sophie investigating an ever-worsening sequence of events. For me, having such traditionally frightening elements in the contemporary world felt especially effective. 
There are some fairly gruesome scenes – not quite full-on horror, but getting close. It certainly isn’t suitable for the nervous – not least because of the psychological tension around the motives of suspect characters. It’s a ghost story crossed with a detective adventure – filmed through a very dark filter.
That said, a competent reader would not find it intimidating, and the settings are created with just enough telling detail to draw you in. I particularly liked the quotations from an unearthly ballad – which actually exists. If it were a film, this would be the creepily tinkling music just before something really unpleasant.
I’d recommend this for those who enjoy dark and disturbing tales with a good deal of unsettling ambiguity. ‘What is true? What is all in her mind?’ are questions that haunt Sophie – and will haunt the engaged reader. You may well enjoy this if you liked
‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs, or ‘Long Lankin’ .

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