A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP $19.99
Reviewed by Daniela Andrews
Imagine a perfectly proper girl, Annabel Grey, living in London in the Victorian era. She attends ‘Miss Finch’s Academy for Young Ladies’ where she learns how to walk demurely, how to feign a smile when discontent and how to display a ‘graceful countenance’ at a dinner party.
Remove her from that world.
Send her to live with some long-lost aunts, who inform her she’s a witch. Explain that she needs to go on a quest to retrieve a powerful wand in London’s underworld. And that she needs to do it quickly, before the evil Mr Angel turns the city (and its inhabitants) to dust. Tell her she’s a most magical girl – a Valiant Defender of Good Magic.
Imagine her disbelief, her reluctance to assume the role, the personal journey she must undertake before she can succeed … and you will have the premise of this book.
Karen Foxlee, author of Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, has written another terrific middle grade story about an unlikely hero. Another magical girl, Kitty, and an unusual troll named Hafwen join Annabel in her journey. Together, they must defeat Mr Angel, a villainous, power-hungry wizard who has created a machine to build an army of evil ‘Shadowlings’. The machine has been fed with items of sadness for almost 13 years – booties and bonnets of dead babies and feathers from extinct birds. He created the machine with the grieving tears of Annabel’s mother … and now he wants Annabel herself.
The story is divided into three parts. Each new section features a stunning double-page, three-dimensional, black and white illustration by Elly MacKay. We also note the level of the dark-magic gauge in Mr Angel’s machine – a creative way to build suspense!
The writing is beautiful, evoking all the senses – especially in its descriptions of Under London. The chapters open with a lesson from Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book (1855), creating a wonderful juxtaposition between Annabel’s former life and her new one. Annabel’s self-acceptance is cleverly illustrated in the final chapter, which opens with a lesson from a different role model. It also begins with the same line that opened the novel, along with another one of Annabel’s puddle visions … but it’s a much stronger, likeable Annabel who closes the story.