Teenagers in Young Adult novels rarely appreciate the opportunities and privileges a parent’s job affords them, but even so, 16-year-old Gray Langtry takes pouting to an extreme. During an argument, she complains that her mother should have put off being prime minister until Gray was grown up. Her mother responds, reasonably enough, that you don’t get to pick and choose your time to be PM. Just ask Boris . . .
Gray — code name “Firefly” to her security team — wants to party like any other teen, but unlike her friends she’s targeted by tabloids forever seeking to embarrass the prime minister with stolen shots of her wild child. When Gray is papped throwing up outside a Park Lane nightclub, she’s promptly grounded, which means never stepping beyond the confines of Number 10. She’s also destined to attend an elite boarding school, Cimmeria Academy, which positions Number 10 (Moonflower Books, £6.99) in the world of CJ Daugherty’s enjoyable Night School series. Before Gray can even turn up at the school gates, she’s catapulted into an assassination plot.
Gray discovers a secret network of tunnels connecting Number 10 with various government departments and even the Houses of Parliament. This means she can roam free without technically breaking bounds — see, she’s not entirely disobedient. You’d have thought that little incident with Guy Fawkes would have ruled out this historical anomaly, but Daugherty’s London has been subtly reimagined, with danger, mystery and imagination combining to thrilling effect.
Unlike Gray, Lucas has every reason to kick off. In the first few pages of The Wolf Road (Everything With Words, £8.99), his parents are killed in a crash after swerving to avoid a large, doglike creature in the road. Scrambling out of the car, injured Lucas sees the unnerving beast close up. Is it a dog, though? A flurry of police cars and ambulances later, Lucas wakes up in hospital to be told he’s being sent to live in the Lake District with his mum’s mum, whom he barely knows. His nan is taciturn, solitary and never puts the heating on. It’s a far cry from home.
An eccentric local farmer, father to Debs, the village goth, is convinced that a wolf haunts the fells, killing sheep. Lucas agrees, though at times the shape he believes to be tracking him seems like the externalisation of his own grief. The shifts between objective and subjective, the everyday and the eerie, are masterly. At school, Lucas is targeted by bully Steve, who knows that the best way to terrorise is to be unpredictable. Steve is backed up by his lurking friends, and Lucas, who has begun to research wolves (they’re reading The Call of the Wild in class) notes the gang’s likeness to a wolf pack. Richard Lambert’s debut novel is phenomenally poised, from its shocking opening to its haunting final pages.
Finbar Hawkins’ Witch (Zephyr, £12.99), set during the English civil war, also begins with the death of a parent. Red-haired Evey and her little sister Dill watch from their hiding place as a troop of men butcher their mother for being a witch. They come from a magical family, but Evey, unlike Dill, has little aptitude for the craft. She is determined to seek revenge by more direct methods, pledging to hunt down the men and their evil leader. As fiery as her mane, Evey is perilously reckless, but reined in somewhat by new friend Lady Anne Whitaker, daughter of the judge at the forthcoming witch trials. Hawkins’ descriptive power is considerable but the period style, together with Evey’s occasional Yoda-like utterances — “Angry, I am” — is at times more distracting than evocative.
When it comes to recklessness, Emilia in the Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco (Hodder, £14.99) takes the biscotto. A Sicilian witch, or strega, she works alongside her twin Vittoria in the family’s Palermo restaurant under the strict guidance of their nonna, who as well as initiating them into the delicious intricacies of the local cuisine has warned the girls never to have any dealings with the dark powers. Emilia’s promise is broken, however, when Vittoria is murdered. Fearlessly invoking a scary but strangely handsome demon, she proceeds to insult this prince of darkness, in line with the romance convention of instant mutual dislike. He’s basically Heathcliff with a whiff of sulphur and a dash of the sexy vampires in Twilight. Thanks to a nifty bit of Latin, Wrath, as he likes to be known, is bound to Emilia for all eternity, which seems like a flaw in the cosmic plan, somehow. But the recipes sound great.
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