Shadowsmith by Ross MacKenzie


The author of The Nowhere Emporium, which won the Blue Peter Book Award early this year, is back with a new tale for brave children. Spooky and deliciously dark in places, this is a fabulously gripping story about the power of love, friendship and overcoming scary situations.

Kirby is having a hard time. His mum is in hospital in a coma after an abnormal summer storm, and he can’t communicate with his dad. He doesn’t have many friends, and there’s a spider in his room, who seems to be watching him.

When Amelia Pigeon, a girl in a yellow raincoat, turns up on his doorstep, she leads him into a world few others can see – a world in which witches can be resurrected, spiders can grow large, and weather can be dictated by malevolent spirits.

With just the right balance of normality – in which Kirby goes fishing with his Dad in his sleepy seaside village, eats burnt toast, and is babysat by a kindly elderly neighbour next door, juxtaposed with the extreme fantasy world in which he finds himself with Amelia (a girl who seems to have wisdom beyond her years, visits crazily scary haunted houses, and confronts forces of evil in long black coats) – this is a great spookily fun read from beginning to end.

MacKenzie has a talent for not only writing pacey exciting stories, but sprinkling them with a magic touch of a few concise descriptions that don’t interrupt the flow, so that the reader can visualise events without sinking in paragraphs of descriptive writing. In fact, the whole plot is rather filmic. The structure is also extremely clear and obvious – the characters have tasks to solve to move on with the story – and this sort of writing is magical for the age group, meeting the needs of keen readers with vivid imaginations, and helping reluctant readers, who may need prompts that help to drive forward the story.

In fact, just as in Harry Potter, (which is even mentioned within the text), reality meets fantasy; there is pain set against hope – in the end the strength of love and friendship overcomes evil.

I particularly enjoyed MacKenzie’s playfulness with commonplace childhood fears – darkness, spiders, loss of a mother…each is given its role and plays a part in scaring Kirby – and then forcing him to be brave. The author also recognises what makes Kirby such an appealing young protagonist – his love for skimming stones, his embarrassment about being seen with a girl, his anger at his father, and his descriptions of food – ice cream and breakfasts in particular.

There are small Illustrations throughout, casting an eerie web over the book, and black pages splitting the sections so that the whole book appears rather stylish. The double front cover is both sinister and alluring, and the depiction at the start of the villains – tall, thin and wearing long black coats – sets the scene immediately. A fun read, thrilling and compelling, from a talented story writer. An easy read for ages 9-12 years. You can buy it here.