This first story in a new series, The Swan House Mysteries, sparkles like the rhinestones on a tutu!
The main protagonist, Milly, is astonished to be offered a scholarship to The Swan House School of Ballet, particularly after her expulsion from her previous ballet school following a disastrously clumsy performance in the Scarlet Slipper Ballet competition. On that fateful night, many months previously her mother, a world-famous ballerina, mysteriously disappeared from the audience, leaving Milly to be cared for by her Russian Babushka (grandmother), “Bab”.
On arrival at the grand mansion in Regents Park which is home to the Swan House Ballet School, Milly is incredulous to find out that it is no ordinary ballet school – in the words of the director, Miss Celia “ ballet dancers make excellent undercover agents. They are physically strong and mentally resilient. They also have good reason to travel the world.” Thus Milly finds herself, not only practising at the barre, but also learning martial arts and espionage skills!
In the manner of all great school-based stories, there is a great cast comprising vicious queen bees, led by the duplicitous Willow, larger than life teachers and our heroine, Milly’s friendship group of misfits: Lottie Li ( a mandarin-speaking, cockney scrapper), Merv Crump (a germ-phobic genius) and Benedict Spencer ( a leather-jacket wearing, rebel). On the staff rosta the standout characters are Madame de la Cloche, the strict ballet mistress, the martial arts instructor, The Captain (referred to as Thor by Milly) and of course Miss Celia the director who is frequently risking life and limb on another undercover mission.
The descriptions of the ballet school, with its extensive grounds, boating lake and secret tunnels make an exciting setting for the intrigue to come. Additionally, the wonderfully old-fashioned Meeks Shoemaking shop plays a key role in the mystery, and had an atmosphere reminiscent of Diagon Alley to me.
The plot revolves around another Scarlet Slipper Competition, with Swan School competing against an American and a Russian Academy. The Russian school is led by Ivan Korolev a former pupil of Miss Celia and now “ inciting discord and war..” Is he responsible for kidnapping Milly’s mother, and will the newly recruited young spies be up to the task of unravelling the mystery. The narrative is as light on its toes as a prima ballerina, the plot gliding effortlessly to the final denouement. Helen Lipscombe has an elegant turn of phrase, for example, “the theatre sighs with the sound of violins” which makes this book such a pleasure to read.
Milly embodies the school motto “ Cycni venustas cor leonis “ grace of a swan, heart of a lion!” and by the end realises that some things are even more precious that a coveted Scarlet Slipper trophy.
I highly recommend this new twist on the adventure/mystery genre, featuring courage and friendship, to readers of 9+.
This is #Book11 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746Books