Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Review of "Mandrake's Plot" by Helen Laycock

Mandrake's Plot Suitable for readers aged 7 – 12.

Evie and Mia meet on a train on their way to St.Agatha’s Boarding School for Girls. When they are dropped off at a disused railway station in the middle of nowhere with no one to meet them, they trek through the pelting rain and darkness for miles until they find a sign to St.Agatha’s which points to an unlikely overgrown track leading up a mountain path.

The school is a foreboding place, set high up on a mountain, surrounded by a sea of mist, and overlooking a loch. Coming face to face with the grotesque caretaker, Mandrake, does nothing to allay their fears. What is the significance of the strange rings worn by Miss Blackthorn, the head teacher? Why does Evie not receive any post from her parents? 

Evie and Mia stumble across a forgotten burial chamber where the skeleton of Sister Beatrice lies, clutching a note. The note details a curse which she has laid on the land. Locked in the chamber as a punishment, the girls uncover an old book within which is the antidote to the curse, but it is hidden in code.

The girls then make a terrible discovery. Are they daring and innovative enough to plan a scheme that will foil evil and get them out of a dangerous situation?


Mandrake's Plot is a well crafted story filled with mystery and suspense. It is an ideal book for the younger reader aged 7-12. In Chapter 1 we meet Evie who is on her way to her new school, St Agatha's in Scotland. She meets Mia, her new friend and I couldn't help but be reminded of Harry Potter on his first train journey to Hogwarts. To be clear, this is not an attempt to capture the magic of the Potter books and St Agatha's is not a school for magic. This is truly an original and unique story.

The school appears to be a foreboding place with gargoyles guarding the entrance and an old caretaker called Mandrake. The author has depicted the characters well, with rich description they spring to life before you. The dialogue is realistic and the story is very easy to read. The narrative, well written and filled with vivid imagery, flows nicely. There are hints along the way that give the reader clues as to what may happen and as a reader it's good to be kept guessing for a while. By the end of the book, I was reminded a little of Enid Blyton's tales of the Famous Five. Mandrake's Plot is very much on that level and is a fabulous tale with an air of intrigue and mystery at its heart.

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