This series is a follow-up to Webb’s Rose series, the first of which was a Cybils Finalist in the Middle Grade Spec Fic category a coupld years ago. I’m just now reading the last book of that series, Rose and the Silver Ghost, borrowed from my mother rather than the library because the distributor has fallen through on actually delivering it.
As a side note, how does she do it? I note that my reviewing has fallen distinctly by the wayside just trying to be a third assistant Girl Scout leader. Holly Webb, according to her bio at Fantastic Fiction, runs a Girl Guide troop and still has 10 novels coming out this year. I was looking to see if I could figure out when the fourth Lily book will be out in the U.S., but couldn’t find any word on that. It looks like we were getting the UK paperback edition, and it’s no longer available. I hope we can get it– I really want to know what happens next, and I know the books have been popular at the library, too!
Lily by Holly Webb. Orchard Books, 2011 (UK), Hodder & Stoughton, 2013
Lily is the much-neglected youngest child of a powerful magician, living in exile in a run-down manor on an island. Her clothes are too tight and she lives on kitchen scraps when the cook remembers her. The worst thing, however, is that she’s never allowed to see her older sister Georgie anymore, who’s always locked up working with their mother. Even when she catches a glimpse of her, Georgie doesn’t seem to recognize Lily anymore. Her best friend is Peter, a mute servant boy who arrived alone in an abandoned boat some year ago.
Things start to change when Lily, looking at a portrait of an ancestor and her lap dog, is able to pull the little dog, Henrietta, out of the portrait. Things start to happen quickly: making an extra effort to find out what’s going on with Georgie, she deduces that Georgie is being trained in dark magic to overthrow the queen who outlawed magic. But as Georgie’s not doing well with it, she may soon meet the same fate as the two older sisters Lily never met, but whose sad pictures are in the old photograph album they find. And with Georgie out of the way, Lily would be next in line for their mother’s sinister training…
With help from Henrietta the dog (who of course can talk), they decide to run away, and end up joining a variety theater in London. This is run by Daniel, a 16-year-old illusionist, who is friendly towards magic even though he doesn’t have any himself. From there, they hope to find out where their father is being held captive, the father they feel sure had nothing to do with their older sisters’ disappearances.
Lily and the Shining Dragons by Holly Webb. Orchard Books, 2012 (UK), Hodder & Stoughton,
Book Two of the series picks up with the girls are still at the circus. They are both doing well, though Georgie is most at home exploring non-magical skills, while Lily’s growing magic pushes and sparkles inside her, begging to be used. When they are offered a home with a relative who recognizes their features during a performance, they have no reason to refuse. But things are not as they seem, and soon Lily and Georgie are on the run again, this time from the Queen’s Men, the enforcers of the anti-magic laws. It turns out that there is a prison-like boarding school for children with magic, and that the Queen’s Men have decidedly unpleasant means of making sure that the captive children can’t do any magic.
Lily and the Prisoner of Magic by Holly Webb. Orchard Books, 2012 (UK), Hodder & Stoughton, 2013
It’s increasingly hard to describe the happenings of the book without spoilers for the previous ones. To keep it short, I’ll say that this book involves a dragon, 40 children, lots of pent-up magic, a trip overseas, two beloved characters from the Rose series, and the continued search for Lily and Georgie’s father. Also, it is not the last book in the series, and it shows.
Lily is a very likeable character, willing to do what it takes to get things done and intensely loyal, especially to her sister and to her friend Peter. Peter, for those looking for books featuring characters with disabilities, is quite a capable person himself and helps the girls out quite as much as they help him. Lily really enjoys her magic, despite the horrible things she’s seen done with it, unlike poor Georgie. The overall message, explicit but not preachy, is that magic itself isn’t good or bad – it’s what one chooses to do with it that matters.
Confirming my suspicions that we got the straight UK edition here in the states, the covers look like they were done by the same artist who did the UK covers for the Rose books. They are pretty and sparkly and girly and certainly worked to attract my daughter. But I much prefer the US covers on the Rose books, which focus on a more realistic and decidedly determined Rose. It’s true that Lily and Georgie have the occasional conversation about clothes, mostly led by Georgie, as Lily isn’t really interested in them. Lily herself is a character that both girls and boys can relate to, and running away from the magic police and dealings with dragons are things that any child would enjoy. I find the china-doll look of the characters on these covers a bit creepy and don’t convey the determined character of the girls at all. Worse, they look to me and my son to be sending the message that they are meant only for girls, instead of letting books be books. That is really a pity – these are solid books with just the right balance of delight and danger to appeal to elementary-aged fantasy fans.
I agree about the covers making them seem less interesting to boys than they might. The adventures are tricksy, involve a lot of skill, cleverness, and physical action – likely to appeal to anyone (even those of us who are now experiencing childhood a third time through our grandchildren). I couldn’t put them down!