A wonderfully exciting, mysterious magical read!
Book: Spellstoppers by Cat Gray
Publication date: 7th July 2022
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Usborne Publishing. All opinions my own.
Welcome to Yowling – a secretive seaside village where magic is just one step away…
Max has spent years thinking he is cursed, because whenever he touches anything electrical it explodes. But then he is sent to Yowling and discovers he is a Spellstopper, someone with the rare ability to drain dangerous build-ups of magic and fix misbehaving enchanted items.
When Max’s Grandad is kidnapped by the cruel Keeper of the malfunctioning magical castle that floats in the bay, only Max’s gift can save him. Together with his new friend Kit, Max throws himself into an adventure filled with villainous owls, psychic ice cream and man-eating goldfish. But can he really pull off the biggest spellstop ever?
I meant to review this book so much earlier in the summer, because it’s the perfect kind of read for the long summer holiday! It somehow manages to perfectly capture the slightly alien nature of the British seaside village, while combining it with a story that’s exciting and magical, and adding in a hefty dose of self-belief and friendship. What I liked about Spellstoppers – apart from the fun adventure – is that despite the male lead, this is actually more the emotional storyline that’s usually given to female protagonists in middle grade fantasy – it’s nice to see a magical boy learning that his powers aren’t rubbish, and making friends to support him on a quest.
Max is a great main character – it’s easy from the very beginning of the book to sympathise with him, even if his problems are slightly more unusual than the norm! His ‘curse’, which means he can’t touch anything electrical without it breaking, makes him feel like a total outsider, which I think will be very familiar to anyone who’s struggled with some lack of skill that makes them ‘weird’ – so it’s really rewarding and joyful when he meets his grandfather and learns that it’s not a curse after all, but a true talent. His gruff grandad is delightful to read, too, as is feisty new friend Kit – and the villain of the piece is deliciously, scenery-chewingly evil.
This is actually a fairly creepy book, but the ominous atmosphere is done well and seems appropriate for the age range – it’s nothing worse than a Diana Wynne Jones (though some of those used to terrify me!). The owls that monitor everything in Yowling are particularly sinister, as is the way that the villagers act for fear of getting on the wrong side of Leandra. It’s a fun juxtaposition against the sunny, cheerful idea of a summer holiday, and it makes things really interesting and atmospheric.
I really think this is a fabulous read, and one of my favourite new middle grades so far this year. I’m really excited to see what Cat Gray writes next! Five out of five cats.