Saturday 25 February 2012

Saturday Spotlight: The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin

Saturday Spotlight is a new feature where I'm showcasing some of the books I've reviewed for The Bookbag by posting reviews here for the first time. I'm trying to use it to promote books which people may have missed originally.

14-year old Sunni finds it bad enough that when she's trying to do some research on a famous Fausto Corvo painting in Blackhope Tower's Mariner's Chamber, she gets lumbered with her annoying stepbrother to look after. Add to that the presence of her classmate Blaise, a boy who's better at art than she is, and her day is looking depressing – and that's before Dean mysteriously vanishing when walking around the chamber's labyrinth.

You see, the Mariner's Chamber is a strange place which is famed for the appearance, centuries earlier, of skeletons into the locked room, and Sunni and Blaise quickly realise that Dean has disappeared into the painting they're studying. A rescue mission is launched, and most of the book takes place inside a strange land of a multitude of enchanted paintings, while we also see the police investigation trying to find out what has happened to the trio of vanished children.

Arcadia, the land they end up in, has its fair share of weird creatures, possible scoundrels, and dangerous places, but worse than any of them is the villain who sneaks into the painting just after them – Angus Bellini, cousin of their art teacher, who's determined to find three lost paintings of Corvo's which he's convinced are hidden inside Arcadia.

The book has a rapid pace and Flavin is definitely a talented writer who manages to capture the world of Arcadia and the three heroes really well. If there's a slight criticism, Bellini is something of a one-dimensional villain and this perhaps prevents the book being quite as exciting as it could be at times. On the other hand, the characters the three children meet in Arcadia, including Corvo's apprentice Marin and Lady Ishbel Blackhope, niece of 16th century adventurer Sir Innes Blackhope, who formerly owned the Tower, are much more interesting to read about. I particularly like the interaction between Blaise, Sunni and Marin – it's a sort of borderline love triangle, enough romance to whet the appetite of readers who enjoy that kind of thing but never taking anything away from the action.

I think that the majority of younger secondary school children and older primary school children would really enjoy this book, and anyone particularly interested in art will be absolutely fascinated by it. I'm not quite convinced that it will have the same appeal to the older end of the teenage age range but would encourage them to give it a try if they like the idea of enchanted paintings.

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