Sunday, December 17, 2017


I'm really starting to kick myself for not having plunged into Kim Newman's works earlier. I read Anno-Dracula back in the 90s and enjoyed it, but never picked up the sequels or anything else by him. Now, after sampling some of his work, I'm making up for lost time.

The Secrets of Drearcliff School (2015) is set vaguely in the 20s, and centers on Amy Thomsett, a young girl with a strange gift; it seems she can levitate herself, but has little control over it. Her uptight widowed mother sends her off to the title institute, which seems to specialize in difficult cases such as Amy. It's not that Amy is a bad person or poor student, but her mother holds Amy's paranormal ability against her.

The school is indeed a dreary spot on the coast, and of course strange things happen. It's not as plainly a magical school like Hogwarts, but it's definitely an odd place. There are the usual problems of bullying and rank and class issues that would rise up in school stories of the type, but here Newman throws in a neat angle in that most of the students are the daughters of mad scientists, pulp heroes, supervillains, and the like. (I chuckled at the mention of a "Sally Nikola" and there's probably a ton of references that sailed over my head.

Amy ends up forming "the Moth Club" with her friends Frecks, Kali, and Light Fingers. Frecks is a stolid British sort who has hidden talents; Kali is the daughter of an Indian bandit lord, and who reads too much gangster fiction and speaks like a pulp gangster. Light Fingers is another Unusual; her hands can move at amazing speed. Amy is a moth fancier and she assigns appropriate code names to her friends. But why? Because hooded figures are stalking the campus, and an attempt is made to abduct Kali.

But once that is resolved, there's a new menace in the form of Antoinette Rowley Rayne, a haughty new girl who openly declares her intention to change the school....and actually succeeds in drawing many of her fellow students into a sort of cult. And the hooded creeps are back, seemingly in league with Rayne.

It's a lot of fun, and my only complaint is that there's a lot of setup with references to strange Other Ones and the like, and when the story concludes there's still a lot of unanswered questions....including the fate of the REAL mastermind behind it all.

Still, it's a good read, and moves well. I enjoyed it immensely, not only for the story and characters but for the many nods to pulp fiction, which is Newman's signature. Worth finding.

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