Lightning Falls by Amy Wilson is a ghostly mystery set in a magical world yet it is at heart a story about family and belonging. Valerie has been living at Lightning Falls for as long as she can remember, happy alongside the others who live there, Meg who she treats as a sister, and the rest of the family. It is a Ghost House and together they haunt the guests who come to stay at this hotel with a difference. One night Valerie sees a strange boy on the viaduct above the river that flows next to the house and is intrigued by him. Joe, the boy she befriends explains that beneath the river and the viaduct is a bridge to another world. Joe brings trouble with him as he believes the magical anchors which keep his home safe and have been stolen are somewhere near the Ghost House. He also tells Valerie that she too belongs in Orbis, the world from which he has come. Unsettled, Valerie starts to question everything she has believed is the truth and finds herself swept up in a dangerous adventure full of magic and secrets.
The world building in this book is excellently done. The house itself takes an important role in the story and as sometimes happens in fiction almost becomes a character itself. The setting of the house next to the thundering river, the waterfall and the looming viaduct is vividly described. “From here it’s a thrashing monster, rushing from the waterfall to the ash-brown valleys, overlooked by the loops of the abandoned viaduct…it’s awesome, and powerful and it really doesn’t care if we like it or not.” Magic, ghosts, secrets and a portal to another world all work well in children’s books and there is a sense of the familiar to this story that helps young readers become involved in the adventure. The discovery of an old journal adds both an extra dimension and the voice of another character to the narrative and is a useful plot device. The various threads and the links between the characters are brought together in a satisfying conclusion.
Valerie’s search for the truth and the emphasis on the importance of family and a sense of belonging give this an added depth. She believes that she is a Hallowed Ghost, discovered by Lord Rory in the crypt and therefore different to the rest of the ghosts she lives with. This sense of being a slight ‘outsider’ and her need to find out her true home and family is relatable for many and this book could prompt discussion on what ‘family’ and ‘home’ really means for some.
The mystery and the magic make this a story that would appeal to readers who enjoy books by Abi Elphinstone and Sophie Andersen. Lightning Falls is a thoroughly enjoyable read for upper KS2 and would work well as a class read aloud also.
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