Midwinter is traditionally a time for sitting by the fireside, gathering together and telling each other ghost stories, but many years have passed since this custom of seasonal spooky storytelling has been widespread and with this year being restricted as it is, such occasions are even sparser, however, we’re still very lucky to have the power of imagination and the magic of books to get our fill of ghostly tales during late December days and if you’re looking to accompany your wintery nights in with a good book, I think I’ve found the perfect one that will enchant and intrigue children and adults alike.
The Ghost of Gosswater is Lucy Strange’s third novel for children and she doesn’t disappoint her readers in the slightest! Atmospheric, chilling, intriguing and slightly gothic, the story of 12-year-old Lady Agatha Asquith (better known as Aggie) is set over several weeks, starting from a few days before Christmas 1899 through to the first couple of weeks after the turn of the century. Aggie’s father – the 29th Earl of Gosswater has died, leaving poor Aggie in the manor estate accompanied only by her greedy, sly and insufferable older cousin Clarence who informs Aggie the day after her fathers death, in no uncertain terms, that he is now the heir to the manor and that Aggie will be leaving Gosswater for good as of the following day, to be sent to her ‘real’ father who lives on a local farm and by trade is a woodcarver; she is stripped of all her finery, goods, home and position in society, but our Aggie isn’t going without a fight.
Despite feeling lost in the world and estranged from her family, Aggie is determined to have what is rightfully hers and not loose the only home she’s ever known. Her late father wished for Aggie to be left the majestic Queen Stone – a large opal that has been in the Asquith family for generations which is shrouded in mystery and myth and is the origin to the families wealth and status. However this precious stone went missing long before Aggie can remember, but the 29th Earl promised Aggie in his will to tell her of it’s whereabouts before it was too late, however with only guesses and clues as to where it is, both Aggie and Clarence make a start for finding this hidden treasure: Aggie, so that she has part of her old life with her and fairly has what is hers by rights, and Clarence, so that he has extra wealth and the seal of the Asquith heritage to accompany his black opal known as the King Stone which he replaced the missing Queen Stone with prior to the Earls death. Yet Clarence with his dim brains and stupidity misjudges Aggies determination and strength of character as she endeavours to ensure that her future will not be severed from Gosswater, and so starts a feud and rivalry between the two cousins but both for very different reasons.
After departing Gosswater and arriving at her new place of residence with the man who claims to be her biological father, Thomas Walters who is known to the neighbouring town as a thief and nobody, Aggies feels as though everything has been turned completely upside down. Not knowing who she is anymore, where she came from or what her future holds, she is mightily confused with life and a bit angry too. She’s also started noticing a few odd things happening that she just can’t explain – a shining light on the lake, feelings of foreboding and eerie tales from Skelter Island where her Asquith family lays resting. Yet her new life isn’t all bad, living on the farm with Thomas, his loyal steed George and a gaggle of geese including the stubborn, protective but loving Susan, Aggie encounters life like she’s never experienced it before. No longer being waited on or dining every night on extravagant food, Aggie is forced to learn how to cook, clean, muck out the pens and find her independence which is just what our young protagonist needs.
Throughout the story we are treated to lovely descriptions of the natural world and reflections of the characters lives through the wildlife surrounding them; from time spent on Skelter Island where mean Sexton Black lives accompanied by his freckled 12-year-old aid Bryn to wonderful depictions of the atmospheric Fens to encounters with animals such as Fox who darts between the trees at night, Lucys words made me feel like I was there with Aggie every step of the way. I could almost feel the nipping of the icy weather, the sound of birdsong and the feeling of fresh mountain air on my face which is just what I needed in these times of restriction. Another aspect of the book that captured me was the fine balance that Lucy writes so well, of a sprinkling of supernatural and mystery intertwined with historical reality and interesting storylines, which left me guessing throughout the book and imaging a period of time so different from our own. The characters are the final element to the beauty of this book; our protagonist is realistic and determined, Thomas troubled but kind-hearted, Bryn is cheeky and as loyal as anyone could be, reclusive Moll is wise and knowing and her niece Ivy friendly and helpful, and even the alternatively undesirable characters of book such as Clarence and Sexton Black all have qualities and personas that feel real to life which goes to show how talented Lucy’s penmanship is.
With mysteries threaded throughout Aggies as well as strands of stories surrounding the Asquith household, all of which could lead to different conclusions, we’re forced, alongside Aggie, to try to work out where her story of courage and self-discovery will go which I loved. This riches to rags story brings to life icy cold days, frost-bitten grass, established and well rounded characters, imagination and has the perfect balance of Lucy’s signature whispers of folklore and myth. With echos of Bronte and Du Maurier, this children’s book set in the Lake District is simply perfect for bookworms aged 10 all the way up to adults and is best read next to the fire on chilly evenings. So grab a blanket and your favourite hot drink and be ready to be swept away to a tale where myths are still encountered, adversity is faced with determination and friendships triumph over hardships; for in the end courage and truth will always find a way.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this midwinter blog and that you enjoy The Ghost of Gosswater if you decide to pick it up! If you’d like to know more about Lucy Strange you can find her on Instagram @thelucystrange, Twitter @thelucystrange and Facebook or alternatively you can have a wander on her website lucystrange.org to discover all her wonderful work!
You can find more book recommendations via my Instagram account @viewsfromabookshop and to get all the latest articles straight to your inbox, you can subscribe to my mailing list below. Wishing you and your household all a very Merry Christmas and Midwinter!
I reach out to touch the trunks of tall silver birches either side of me; I listen to a robin singing in the branches above; I kick through the mulch of leaves and breath in the clean, damp, earthy smell. I feel as if I have escaped.Page 65, The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange
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