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Ok, so I’ll admit…I don’t usually read Jacqueline Wilson. I went through a phase where I thought her work was amazing (I was about 10 at the time, and Harry Potter hadn’t appeared yet.) She’s definitely a good writer- that much is obvious by her success and her legion of wonderfully-literate fans- and yet I’ve shied away from her work as I’ve grown (naturally,) and turned to more darker fantasy/action-hero stuff: Game of Thrones, Anne Rice, Holly Black, Poppy Z. Brite, to name but a few. Wilson’s work is clever, funny and individual, and I still have a soft spot for YA literature and detailed fantasy illustration (Rackham, for instance,) and…gulp…fairies. I’ll admit it. Anyone who’s read my review of Holly Black’s Tithe will know this. I love Brian Froud (not literally- I mean his work,) Edmund Dulac, Richard Dadd, even May Gibbs. I even bought FAE magazine once. (I couldn’t resist.) So I was unusually drawn to Midnight, and particularly the intricate descriptions of the fairy figures the main character, Violet, hand sews from scraps of fabric, as well as the exploration of fictional fairy-author Casper Dream’s work. Jacqueline Wilson also wrote a fantastic article on fairies and Richard Dadd for the Guardian.
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So what if it was a children’s book, I thought to myself. Violet’s brother, Will, is as menacing as he is strangely effeminate, in dandy-ish clothes and necklaces- luring his sister into attics full of bats in probably-PTSD-inducing ‘games.’ Violet’s new BFF, Jasmine, looks like a cartoon-book gyspy, but picks at food and seems full of disappointment-and bitterness- even underneath all her bright colours. Surely there was scope for imagination and interest here.
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And yet…because it was a children’s book, nothing seemed resolved. SPOILER- Violet and Will magically went back to being friends, Will’s earlier angst and Iago-like manipulations seemingly forgotten. Violet’s fairies take on a life of their own, but it is ultimately only an illusion- ribbons and string and light effects. And as for Casper Dream- he fades into the background once revealed as a real man with real weaknesses. It’s interesting, but just not taken far enough. And Nick Sharratt’s illustrations feel jarring to me- smiley 1D fairies with pinprick eyes and floppy star-fish hands. To me, his work doesn’t feel dreamy or detailed enough, and I’m disappointed that they were all in black and white, like ye olde woodcuts, and just as flat. It makes me wonder what such a fantastic subject-matter would look like in the hands of one of my favourite contemporary illustrators, Chris Riddell, who is known for his oddball, almost grotesque style. All in all, it was okay, and the descriptions and dialogue were fresh and on-point, but I finished it in a couple of days, and was left wondering: ‘where was the magic?’, and, after everything, ‘what really happened?’
Overall rating- 5 out of 10.