The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School
Author: Kim Newman
Publisher: Titan Books
Disclosure: A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.
The cover makes this Young Adult novel look like an imitation of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs, which has become well-known lately because of its 2016 cinematic feature adaptation directed by Tim Burton. Fortunately this British novel has enough differences to make it refreshingly original.
The opening line is, “A week after Mother found her sleeping on the ceiling, Amy Thomsett was delivered to her new school. Like a parcel.” “The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School” is a mixture of “Miss Peregrine” and a typical British Young Adult boarding-school novel, set on a lonely North Somerset cliff overlooking the stormy Atlantic in the early 1920s. Like “Miss Peregrine”, all of the children are Peculiar. Unlike it, Drearcliff Grange School is a girls’ boarding school only, and it isn’t for unknown peculiar girls as much as for girls who have a psychic talent whose parents consider socially embarrassing. They are sent to Drearcliff in the hopes that Dr. Swan, its stern headmistress, will teach them to suppress their peculiarity and become proper young ladies. Instead, all the girls are permitted to let their abilities run riot. There is Amy Thomsett, who can float – not fly. Other girls are Sidonie “Gruesome” Gryce, Emma “Light Fingers” Naisbitt, Kali “Princess Kali” Chattopadhyay from Kafiristan, Hannah “Anarchist” Absalom, Polly “Perky” Palgraive, Daisy “Even” Keele, Cecily “Snitcher” Garland, Dilys “The Frost” Frost, Priscilla “Prompt” Rintoul, and dozens more. Janice “Gill Girl” Marsh has actual gills and claims to be from Innsmouth, Massachusetts. The teachers are given nicknames like Mrs. Rosemary “Wicked” Wycke, Miss Elizabeth “Digger” Downs, and the Rev. Pericles “Ponce” Bainter.
Like all British School novels, there are Houses and Forms. The girls create their secret societies. They go to war on each others’ clubs, using their Attributes.
“It transpired that the captured girl was an Unusual who had been raising Captain Freezing [a destroyed snowman] from the dead every night. The Frost could command snow to stand up by itself and take shape. Apparently, her Ability was for manipulating ice, not making it – so the trick only came into play in winter.” (p. 197)
And then they discover a real plot to take over Mankind.
Newman, a well-known author of such Young Adult and adult fantasies as “An English Ghost Story” and “Anno Dracula”, has written a spritely page-turner; a mystery-fantasy with 1920s British schoolgirls acting like the Teen Titans. The novel may be a bit British for American readers –
“Frecks signaled a bent old gaffer, who hefted Amy’s luggage on his back and conveyed it to a horse-cart in the station forecourt.
‘Joxer’s odd-job man and general slavey,’ Frecks explained. ‘Don’t mind him. Shot in the head at Vimy Ridge. Came to Drearcliff with the nag, Dauntless. She was in the War too. Charged enemy guns. Not very bright, if you ask me. Say the name’ – Frecks mouthed the syllables Gen-er-al Haig – ‘and Dauntless bolts. Runs perfectly amok.”’ (p. 15)
–but they will quickly adjust to it. “The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School” (trade paperback, 410 pages, $14.95, Kindle $7.99) is recommended for adolescent readers.