When I heard that Hothouse pal Kim Newman was planning to write an adventure set in a boarding school for girls, I have to admit I was a bit concerned about how it was going to turn out. As it happens I needn’t have worried The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange is a glorious romp through the quads and dorms of one very peculiar school.
Our hero, young Amy Thomsett isn’t a normal girl either, the week before she was bundled off to Drearcliffe her mother had found her sleeping on the ceiling. At Drearcliff Amy isn’t alone, for amongst the daughters of criminal masterminds, outlaw scientists, master magicians and renegade monarchs, there are other girls with unusual talents, everything from picking locks to starting fires, without any matches naturally.
Together with her dormitory chums Amy forms the secret Moth Club to combat the hooded conspirators who kidnap one of her pals, but then a bigger and much more dangerous threat comes to Drearcliffe when a curiously influential new girl turns up in a black uniform.
The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School has all the sort of things you might expect from a girls boarding school story set in the 1920s; sadistic prefects and their cronies, secret passages, mysterious strangers carrying out dark nefarious deeds and drastic punishments for even the most minor infractions of the labyrinthine raft of pointless school rules. This isn’t the sort of book that is going to scare the pants off you or is bathed in blood and gore, but more of a love story to the sort of stuff, both adventurous and spooky that the author (and people like me too) would have encountered in books, comics and on TV in his youth, and it’s tremendous fun. And as we have come to expect from the master of the literary mash-up, part of the enjoyment of Newman’s prose is spotting the little nuggets that he throws in from so many different sources as diverse as Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s and HP Lovecraft. You will also encounter some remarkable ‘guests’ amongst Amy’s classmates.
Old School spooky adventure crafted with love and respect for its source material and packed to the gills with precious gems and gags I give The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School a 666/666
The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is out mow from Titan Books price £7.99, $14.95 or CA $19.50