Twelve-year-old Maggie lives with her aunt, who is eccentric as expected, but in particular, unfamiliar ways. Her mother is ill — her depression portrayed with grim truthfulness. The classmate Maggie is trying to rescue has been unkind, but is not just the mean-girl type. The cat companion who speaks is not just there to be wise-cracking, but is elderly and only eventually heroic. The female villain does not wear high heels and red lipstick. The evil mastermind and the dangers of the other world are strange. We come to care. Happily, this is the first of a series.
Maggie’s conflicted attitude to her tormentor is subtly explored; despite the girl’s meanness she can’t help liking her and sensing that all is not well in Ida’s seemingly perfect world. In nods to other well-established fantasy works, the first creature Maggie encounters in the oppressive Dark World brings to mind Narnia’s Mr Tumnus, and another wizened creature recalls Yoda. Overall, it’s an effective tale, bursting with invention.