Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I am a huge fan of MG historical fiction and this book ticked all the right boxes for me! It is set in 1905, the Edwardian period of English history, a time when changes were taking place that would affect the way everyone in the country lived. This changing time is reflected in a very interesting way throughout a book haunted with the passing of time and resounding with the ticking of timepieces and clamour of hours being struck.
The opening chapter sets the scene for this tale of mystery and suspense as Helena and her father arrive at the elegant Cambridge home of wealthy Mr Westcott, where strange machinations are hinted at. They are still reeling from the recent death of Helena’s mother and as they arrive at the mysterious house in Cambridge Helena clings to her mother’s memory through the birdcage containing her beloved Amazonian parrot, Orbit. The sense of unease is brilliantly captured by author Ann-Marie Howell as Helena watches in disbelief as her father signs a contract which puts all their possessions at risk if any one of the clocks he has been engaged to maintain stops ticking. Adding to the sense of disquiet is the odd behaviour of Mr Westcott’s sister, Katherine, who appears friendly but somehow gives off the sinister feeling that she is not as she appears on the surface. It is very clear that Orbit senses something odd about her and his behaviour reflects this, much to Helena’s embarrassment and her father’s irritation.
As Helena settles into the house of one hundred clocks she investigates its mysteries: the strange silent child who ghosts into rooms to observe the clock conservation; the reason that all the servants have disappeared leaving good-natured tutor Stanley to fulfill all the domestic duties, the reason Mr Westcott has filled every room with clocks and removed all the other furniture as well as the fate of the previous occupant of her father’s post. The observant and inquisitive Helena neglected by her father’s obsession with the clocks probes beneath the surface of these mysteries as this compelling story progresses.
I loved the way the creeping tension of this story was developed. The relationship between two girls, both coming to terms with loss is delicately unwound, the historical context of females’ expectations of education and self-expression is beautifully woven into the story and the importance of leaving the past behind and creating your own future is a powerful message for an MG readership. I think this story will be greatly enjoyed by readers of 10+ who have previously enjoyed MG historical fiction by Emma Carroll or Katherine Woodfine.
I am grateful to Toppsta and Usborne for sending me a copy of this book to review.