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by Patricia Elliot

(Hodder Children's Books, £5.99, 334 pages, paperback, published 13 May 2004.)

Review by Gary Couzens

Agnes Cotter (known as Aggie) has cover scangrown up in a small village. At the age of fourteen, she is summoned to Murkmere Hall to be the companion of the Master's sixteen-year-old ward Leah. But her first impressions of Leah and the Hall are unhappy ones: Leah is headstrong, and she challenges everything Aggie has been brought up to accept.

Told in first person, Murkmere is a compelling novel set in a fantasy world which Elliott has since returned to, in 2005's Ambergate. Here, birds are worshipped and the Table of Significance's omens are to be obeyed. Aggie is an engaging heroine, resisting seduction by the Master's steward Silas Seed (who has to be a villain with a name like that) and winning over Leah only to fall out with her again over a cloak of swan-skin. Eventually she wins the confidence of the ailing Master at a time when the all-powerful Ministration pay a visit at a grand ball.

Patricia Elliott won the 2001 Fidler Award for her debut novel The Ice Boy. Children's fantasy fiction is a crowded field but Murkmere shows that there is plenty of merit there and always has been, despite young-adult fiction's current fashionability with adult readers and writers. (Murkmere is probably best for over-elevens, due to some mild sexual references, including that attempted seduction by Silas.) Elliott has created a fascinating world and a return visit would be welcome.

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