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The Impossible Secret of Lillian Velvet

Authored by Jaclyn Moriarty
Illustrated by Karl James Mountford
Published by Guppy Publishing Ltd

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The Impossible Secret of Lillian Velvet is another clever and entertaining fantasy adventure for middle-grade readers in the Bronte Mettlestone series. This is Jaclyn Moriarty’s fifth novel set in the Kingdoms and Empires (‘like our world but more old-fashioned‘) but there is nothing formulaic about these books: while the first three instalments were set entirely within this imaginary world, Lillian Velvet, like Oscar in the fourth volume, finds herself being mysteriously transported to the Kingdoms and Empires from Australia.

At the start of the novel, the first in a sequence of ‘reports’ by an unknown author tell us about Bronte Mettlestone’s grandparents Jacob and Ildi saying farewell to their twelve children and going into hiding during the Whispering Wars twenty years previously. We are then introduced to Lillian, a child in our world, who is home-schooled by her stern grandmother and has limited contact with other children. Lillian tells us how her grandmother gives her a pickle jar filled with gold coins on her tenth birthday, with the instruction not to spend all her gold coins in one day. It transpires that these are magical coins which take her to the Kingdoms and Empires, where a man called Mr Turtelhaze asks her if she wishes to stay in exchange for five gold coins.

The opening of the novel may require some perseverance, particularly for readers new to this series: it is complex and deliberately disjointed as Lillian experiences a number of brief and seemingly unrelated adventures in which she rescues characters who are trapped in different ways before being ‘shoved’ back home. Those familiar with the Mettlestone family tree may start to piece together the connections between these episodes more quickly than Lillian does, but, with the help of more reports involving the Mettlestone family, the plot begins to take shape and acquire more urgency, particularly as Lillian becomes desperate to return to a circus to rescue a young boy from a terrifying brush with death. The second half of the novel is thrillingly plotted and nail-bitingly tense.

This is another charming addition to Moriarty’s series, which should once again be popular with older primary and younger secondary readers who might be looking for something magical but a bit different from other series they have read. As ever, Moriarty’s writing is brimming with humour, especially in her characterisation and dialogue, as well as a sense of playfulness and inventiveness with form. This makes for a sophisticated and rewarding reading experience as Moriarty keeps plenty of twists and surprises up her sleeves. All this is coupled with a lovely message about kindness and selflessness which makes Lillian a delightful heroine: hopefully, we will see more of her in future Mettlestone adventures.