During the Blitz, 12-year-old Londoner Kat, along with two younger siblings and an American boy, is sent to a distant relative’s Scottish castle, where they confront evils both old and contemporary.
Though Lady Eleanor claims to be starting an academy in her castle and has hired faculty to attend to the curriculum, it’s soon clear that none are what they claim to be. The old castle keep is burned out, and the newer part seems to have weird twists and turns, secret doors and strange goings-on, including several ghostly children. Clues multiply early on that Eleanor is the same woman for whom the creepy, unnamed village magister has replaced living parts one by one over decades, each given in payment for a charm for a child’s soul. Kat’s father—now away working for MI6—is a watchmaker, and Kat has his gift for numbers, gears, and puzzles. Witchy magic, Nazi menace, and clockwork all come into play, along with an Enigma machine and spies for both the Allies and the Nazis seeking occult sources of power or protection. After the breathtaking climax, various threads of the story are tied up in a drawing-room denouement in which the characters decide to dispose of toxic magical artifacts rather carelessly—though in a way that invites anticipation (and fortuitously leaves room for sequels).
An original, clever, page-turning adventure. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)