Shiverton Hall: The Creeper
By Emerald Fennell
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 2779 6
The boarding-school story was at its most popular in the first half of the 20th century. More recently, it has seen a revival with the success of the Harry Potter series, but the genre will never reach the heights it enjoyed in the 1940s and 50s because boarding school is just less common these days.
Emerald Fennell, a British actress and YA novelist, takes on the genre and mixes in a bit of gentle horror in her Shiverton Hall - with mixed results.
The Creeper is the second Shiverton Hall book, and like its predecessor seems lightweight in terms of plot and character compared to the mighty Harry Potter. But then Fennell aims her books at younger teens looking for an undemanding read and a few quick scares.
Arthur Bannister and his close gang of friends are boarders at Shiverton Hall, a school housed in a creepy mansion that hides secrets and attracts eccentric adults with nefarious plans. Arthur is about to return to school for a new term when a mysterious hooded figure appears out of nowhere, warning him that things will turn nasty if he goes back to Shiverton. Arthur, of course, ignores these threats and the new term begins.
Soon, eerie events start happening at the school and in the village nearby. A ghostly figure with a burned face is seen prowling the grounds. Then a young boy disappears from the village, leaving behind an ancient book that must hold a clue to what's going on. And what secrets is the new celebrity art teacher hiding from the rest of the school?
Fennell quickly piles on the suspense and scares as Arthur and gang move into action to sort out and stake a new set of spooky goings-on at Shiverton Hall. Her interweaving of ghost tales into the mystery in The Creeper is entertaining and clever. Her story-telling style is direct and allows the story to get on by itself without interruptions or diversions.
The characters, as in the first story, are again a bit under-developed and the villains obvious, but eager readers might not have time to notice this as the spook-fest picks up steam and the skeletons jump out of the closets.
Shiverton Hall: The Creeper doesn't break new ground, but the ghost-train ride to the final reveal is amusing, undemanding and engaging.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com