Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War was another hit of 2018. Her latest outing, The Time of Green Magic , is even less of a sequel, but one of those books whose title doesn’t do justice to the thrills (and skills) within. A house features prominently: an eerie doer-upper in contemporary London festooned with ivy, in which two recently merged families are trying to establish a new normal. Despite the gothic vibes, Abi’s family fall in love with the place and manage to raise cash to pay the rent just before they are evicted. McKay balances out Abi’s very down-to-earth concerns – missing her Jamaican granny, her new stepbrothers, the teenage Max and the younger Louis – and the slow creep of the fantastical. This is magic without whimsy, a story about secrets and the power of books, with enough edge-of-the-seat moments to keep you hugging a cushion.
McKay, who won the Costa Children’s Book award last year with The Skylarks’ War, has branched out into magic realism. The emotions of real families have always been her forte, but in this evocative novel she makes something fantastical happen to a blended family: motherless Abi and her stepbrothers, teenage Max and six-year-old Louis.
Costa prize-winning McKay’s genius lies in conjuring up the rough and tumble of family life, where private sadness, grievances and fears are bathed in the warmth and optimism of adults trying their very best in difficult circumstances... Her small boys are always an absolute treat — and never more so than here. Magical indeed.