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by Sarah Singleton

(Simon & Schuster Children's Books, £5.99, 224 pages, paperback, published March 2005; ISBN: 1416901353.)

Review by Chris Butler

Century by Sarah Singleton is a gothic fantasy, set circa 1890. It tells the tale of Century by Sarah Singletontwo sisters, Mercy and Charity, who are trapped in a house called Century. A house shrouded in winter darkness, where spring never comes and every day is the same. The girls are cared for by a housekeeper named Aurelia, and taught by a strict governess named Galatea. They sometimes glimpse their widowed father, but Trajan Verga is a distant, brooding man. They can barely remember their mother. Sometimes Mercy sees ghosts in the house.

Things begin to change when Mercy discovers a snowdrop on her pillow--a mysterious and new occurrence. Then she meets a man named Claudius who claims to be a member of the Verga family, and claims it is possible for Mercy to see her mother again.

Mercy is a plucky heroine who, through the course of the novel, seeks to uncover the truth about her family's history. The magical trap in which the Verga family is ensnared is more complex than it at first appears. To reveal any more would be to ruin what is a brilliantly constructed puzzle.

This is a fabulous story, written for older children but which can be enjoyed by all. While the overall story is excellent, there are also many brilliant set pieces along the way. I particularly enjoyed Mercy's daring escape from a locked room. And a scene in which a living soul is transferred into an inanimate shell is genuinely creepy.

Fans of Sarah's adult fiction should have no hesitation in seeking out this new work. And I hope many new readers will discover her through this utterly charming tale.

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