Mysterious, ghostly school beckons dejected teenager

John Millen
John Millen |

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Shiverton Hall
By Emerald Fennell
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978-14048827789

Welcome to Shiverton Hall. As you stand in front of the massive iron gates, you might feel a twinge of apprehension. Should you enter, or would it be wiser to turn around now and go back home? The two crumbling angels perched on top of the gate columns don't exactly look inviting. The rusty sign high on the wrought-iron arch tells you you're in the right place, but whether you should open the gates and walk through is a different matter altogether. The whole place looks sinister, spooky. There is still time to change your mind and walk away.

When Arthur Bannister arrives at Shiverton Hall, he has no choice but to enter the ominous-looking grounds. Events he would rather forget forced Arthur to leave his previous school, and almost at the same moment, a letter arrived offering the unhappy teen a place at a boarding school called Shiverton Hall. Happy coincidence?

No, but Arthur doesn't realise that at the time. The powers-that-be at the creepy-sounding school offered him a scholarship to study there - and who was he to question an offer like that? This heralded a new start, so he packed his bags and set off for what he hoped would be an adventure and a positive new chapter in his life. But things, of course, didn't turn out quite as he expected. There would be no story if they did.

Shiverton Hall is a confident debut novel from actress Emerald Fennell. A place with a name like that must have dark shadows around every corner, and there are bound to be spooky goings-on as the plot takes off. Arthur learns about the ghostly and gruesome history of Shiverton Hall as the mystery of why he has been summoned there takes grip on the plot.

Fennell has structured her first novel cleverly, with chapters alternating between gruesome and ghostly stories from the Hall's history with present-day events involving Arthur and his friends. Eventually, the two strands come together in a way that will satisfy even the most demanding reader. She is skilled at building up suspense, and doesn't let go of the scare-reins, even as the story comes to a head.

If you're in the mood for a lot of fun and a few frights, this school story-cum-spookfest will tick all the right boxes. The characters are a bit one-dimensional, but it does what it does with great panache and poise - just what the doctor ordered for a dark night with the lights turned down low.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]