(2015) Kim Newman, Titan Books, £7.99, pbk, 400pp, ISBN 978-1-781-16572-0
Apart from his revised 'Anno Dracula' series and other earlier novels like Bad Dreams, Jago and The Quorum, all being published by Titan as 'complete' revised editions because they include associated short stories, even script extracts, Kim Newman has been busy with new stuff, which is always cause for joy. This includes the recent An English Ghost Story and now Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School, the cover of which shows an old building and someone hovering above it, a clue to what is inside, for this is a boarding school unlike any other: not even Hogwarts comes close because the pupils are not there to learn magic, they are the magic.
Amy Thomsett has an embarrassing problem, embarrassing for her mother that is, because Amy has a habit of floating. Found sleeping on the ceiling, Amy is sent to the coast – right on the coast - where Drearcliff Grange School stands, although part of the school has fallen into the sea, but what is left standing should be solid enough, we hope... Amy meets other kindred spirits including Frecks and the exotic Kali, daughter of a criminal overlord who would cut your throat and loosen your gizzards as soon as look at you. Kali is a wonderful creation, sprouting some of the funniest dialogue ever uttered at an English boarding school thanks to her addiction to gangster movies.
At the school, Amy soon realises that there is a hierarchy or pecking order among the girls and as a new girl she is at the bottom of the heap and there are rules within rules governing behaviour and woe betide any girl who does not follow them for the older girls will enforce them ruthlessly. All the girls are there because they have a special talent and at least Amy comes from a relatively normal background and isn’t the daughter of a mad scientist, dangerous criminal or master magician. Apart from its many rules, the school has many secrets, and girls are going missing, possibly victims of the Hooded Conspiracy and when another girl is taken its time for Amy’s love of all things related to moths to come to the fore and thus the Moth Club is formed, but there are deeper, deadlier secrets to be uncovered involving rituals and alternative realities with Lovecraftian overtones, and then a new girl arrives, who stands out from the crowd, but doesn’t care and soon the school begins to change in her, slightly, fascistic image, even down to the clothes that the pupils and members of staff start to wear.
With typical panache and style, Newman has delivered a Saturday morning serial of a novel, jammed packed with thrills and spills and cliff-hangers, as well as popular culture references galore and a glimpse into a possible future when the members of The Moth Club have grown up.
The book is split into distinct parts – 'First Term' consisting of 18 chapters, 'Second Term' also consisting of 18 chapters, 'Remove', consisting of 15 chapters, and finally the 'Drearcliff Grange School Register' which lists those pupils attending the schools and the houses they have been placed in – Ariel, Desdemona, Goneril, Tamora and Viola, followed by a list of the members of staff. I, for one, look forward to more ripping yarns featuring the Moth Club when Alice Cooper sings “School’s In” for a change, or at least he did in a different reality, perhaps one in which the Moth Club are great superheroes.
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