Book Reviews

Blog Tour: The Spell Tailors by James Nicol

Today I’m breaking my hiatus to take part in the blog tour for this fabulous middle grade fantasy read from James Nicol! I have not only a review, but also a guest post from James for you…

Book: The Spell Tailors by James Nicol

Publication date: 1st September 2022

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Chicken House Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: older relatives with memory problems similar to dementia; death of parents (prior to story).

Hen dreams of becoming a spell tailor, stitching magic into clothing like his beloved Nana.
But thanks to new factories, spell tailors are struggling.

His Uncle Bertie’s fancy shop has shut down, and when he, Aunt Lucia and stuck-up cousin Connie move in, it’s a disaster for all the family.

Then Hen stumbles upon a new kind of stitch – one which causes Nana and Bertie to ban him from sewing.

What is the power of the stitch that can sew memories into clothes – and could it be the very thing to save them all?

This is a totally charming book that it’s impossible not to fall in love with. I often raise an eyebrow when modern middle grade is compared to Diana Wynne Jones, but in this case the comparison is very apt – there’s really engaging mix of quirky magic and down-to-earth Britishness, of warm-heartedness and darkness, that gives this a very similar feel to some of the Chrestomanci books. I really adored James Nicol’s first series (my review of The Apprentice Witch is here) and while this feels like a very different book – it’s a bit more modern a world, and no witches in sight! – it will definitely appeal to Nicol’s fans.

I’m always a sucker for the cosiness of magic in mundane tasks, and if a book involves magical baking or sewing I’m almost guaranteed to enjoy it, so I was really excited for The Spell Tailors as soon as I heard about it, and the magical tailoring absolutely delivered! I love the concept of all the different spell-stitches and the way the industry had grown up around them – there’s an underlying theme of the dangers of fast fashion for local industry, and the loveliness of handmade work. There’s also a strong focus on family connections, particularly Hen’s relationship with his grandmother, which is very touching – her memory issues, while magically induced, are very reminiscent of someone struggling with dementia, and the portrayal of Hen’s worries about her is very emotional, so be careful if that’s a subject that you’re sensitive to (there is a happy ending, though). I always love strong grandparent relationships in kids’ fiction, and this is a really lovely one.

It’s also nice to see a boy protagonist in this kind of family-focused, believing-in-yourself fantasy! While there’s plenty of excitement, this is generally quite a soft, cosy book, and I like seeing a boy who isn’t forced into a more ‘masculine’ action role, but is allowed to love his grandmother, worry about his friendship with his cousin, and enjoy his art! Hen is lovely, and his kindness, bravery, and perseverance make him a great, gentle role model.

I highly recommend this one to any fans of magical middle grade, particularly if you’re looking for stories with a cosy feel that seem fresh and classic at the same time! Five out of five cats.

And here’s a post from James all about how he’d cast a Spell Tailors film!

Don’t we all dream of who might play our characters if we were ever lucky enough for our book to be turned into a film or TV series? Well, I am actually in this incredibly fortunate position: The Apprentice Witch series is in development for TV and the brilliant team at Lime Pictures have been looking after the project very well. We’ve not got anywhere near casting discussions yet but it’s exciting to daydream about when I’m in a traffic jam or queuing in the supermarket!

But for now let’s imagine it’s time to chat about who might play the main cast in The Spell Tailors . . . THE MOVIE!

Hen – The challenge with casting young characters is that there aren’t a lot of well-known young actors to pick from and in reality it’s likely to be some fab actor we’ve never heard of. But that’s no fun for this, so we’re going to have to pretend we have a time machine. Then, we can nip back in time and offer the lead part of Hen to Noah (Stranger Things) Schnapp. He looks every inch the spell tailor here in this dapper suit!

Nana – Who else is there to play the funny yet formidable and much-beloved Nana but Dame Judi Dench? She even looks the part in her role in Tea With Mussolini. Plus, she’s an Oscar winner and a national treasure (though I’ve heard she hates being called that!) – so double bonus, right?

Uncle Bertie – This is the easiest one as I did have someone in mind when I dreamed up pompous Uncle Bertie: Hugh Bonneville. Uncle Bertie ruffles everyone’s feathers at Danelli’s and despite his absolute seriousness, lurches from one catastrophe to the next! Hugh can bring that gravity coupled with comedy.

Aunt Lucia – The cool calming breeze to Uncle Bertie’s fluster and bluster is Aunt Lucia. She is kind, beautiful and mostly unflappable (unless it’s to do with her daughter Connie’s safety going about her day to day life). We need someone who is beautiful but can be hilariously funny too so I can’t think of anyone better than Minnie Driver for dear Aunt Lucia.

Connie – Again we have to bend the rules of space and time a little bit here so that we can get Georgie Henley – from her days in the Narnia films – to play Hen’s slightly stuck-up (at first!) Cousin Connie. She might be a bit of a pain but Hen and Connie soon form a strong bond of friendship and it’s that bond that will be key to the future of Danelli’s Spell Tailors!

Mrs Thackeray – she’s the main henchwoman for our villain, Tiberius Pepper, and boy is she a nasty piece of work (spoilers)! But like all good villains there is something a tad ridiculous about her, too, so she needs to be played by someone who can pull off the combo with aplomb! Who better to get than the miraculous Tilda Swinton, who is just ace in everything?

And the best thing is there are plenty of other characters left over for some really great cameos! Right, let’s get Judi’s agent on the phone now . . .

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