Title: The Midnight Gate
Author: Helen Stringer
Genre: Middle grade fiction, fantasy
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the author
First line: “Mr. Evans!”
Goodreads blurb: It’s been two months since Belladonna Johnson discovered she was the Spellbinder, and she’s full of questions about her powers. When a ghost finds Belladonna and her classmate, Steve, and gives them a mysterious map, the friends don’t know if they should be looking for or hiding from the one person who holds the answers to Belladonna’s powers: the Queen of the Abyss. Throw into the mix that Belladonna’s parents, who are ghosts, have disappeared and that her brand-new and maybe even sinister foster family seems to know more than they’ll let on, and you have a sequel made of high adventure and intrigue, seasoned with affecting characters and topped with a dollop of wit.
Disclaimer: Even though we have never met in person, I consider the author, Helen Stringer, a friend. We have conversed via e-mail and Facebook, and I enjoy our interactions very much. I always promise to give you, my readers, an unbiased review of every book I feature here on Books and Movies, but I know that my personal feelings may blur the lines a bit, and wanted to make sure I give full disclosure. I really did love the book – and think you will, too – and I’m pretty sure I’d still feel that way even if I didn’t know Helen was a truly wonderful person.
Two years ago, I read Helen Stringer’s Spellbinder aloud to the kids (the link will take you to my review) and we all enjoyed it very much. Last year, Helen sent me a copy of the sequel, The Midnight Gate, but it took a while for it to rise to the top of our read-aloud stack, and the kids wouldn’t let me read it on my own. I’m so glad I didn’t, because we enjoyed the experience together.
Belladonna and Steve are characters that any child could relate to. Belladonna is different, and struggles in all the ways you would expect. Steve, who is more popular, is a bit embarrassed by his friendship with Belladonna, and unsure of what exactly his responsibilities are as Paladin. At first, the boys were quite perturbed with him, and the way he was treating her, but when things get scary, Steve steps up in support of his friend. Steve’s dialogue provides much of the humor in the book, and it’s of the type that my boys find hysterical. They especially loved the scene where he tries dragon milk.
There are also some great antagonists in The Midnight Gate: the Proctors are truly evil and very creepy. And then there is the Queen of the Abyss, the woman Belladonna and Steve must seek out in their quest to keep another Dark Time from descending on their world. Is she good or evil? Why is everyone in the Land of the Dead afraid of her? When the pair finally meets this mysterious woman, the reveal was fantastic – the boys were surprised and found it very funny.
While the first book definitely left room for a sequel, The Midnight Gate ends on a tiny bit of a cliff-hanger, and you know that a third book is definitely called for. The boys were disappointed to find out that it isn’t written yet, but we will be anxious to read it when it is released.
As with all British books, I find myself a bit mystified by some of the language and cultural items. It was great having Helen as a resource. The biggest question the boys had was about Belladonna’s favorite candy, Parma Violets. They weren’t too excited about the idea of a candy that tastes like flowers.