Illustrated by Chris Mould.
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2020.
The Vanishing Trick is such an original and engaging middle grade book – I really enjoyed it!
It’s the story of 11-year-old orphan Leander whose fate becomes entangled with that of Madame Pinchbeck, a mysterious woman who promises to look after him if he agrees to work for her. As security, Leander also has to hand over to Madame Pinchbeck his most treasured possession: the locket which once belonged to his mother. This proves to be a very unwise decision.
Madame Pinchbeck enchants the locket, turning it into a magical Cabinet which Leander can be trapped inside. Leander can then be summoned and vanished again at Pinchbeck’s will. Before long, Leander discovers that he’s not the only child trapped by Madame Pinchbeck. Ten-year-old Felix and 13-year-old Charlotte are also in the same predicament. Felix and Charlotte teach Leander how, as long as his Cabinet is left open, he has the power to vanish and appear from it by himself. Pinchbeck and the three children travel around the country from town to town. Madame Pinchbeck earns her living as a medium, visiting the homes of rich people and performing seances where she leads people to believe she is communing with the spirits of deceased relatives. The three children are involved in her trickery.
The children come to realise they are not safe with Madame Pinchbeck and it becomes a race against time to break Pinchbeck’s spell before one of them vanishes forever…
Madame Pinchbeck is a magnificent villain – sinister, conniving and completely unscrupulous. I think it’s fantastic to have a female villain, especially one as menacing as this.
One of my absolute favourite things about the book is the Victorian setting. I love historical fiction and Jenni has so brilliantly captured the feel of the period: horse-drawn carriages, dark alleyways, gas lamps, and the ever-present threat of the workhouse.
Madame Pinchbeck also experiments with photography. Photography became very popular and more widely accessible in the Victorian era and I love how Jenni has incorporated these developments into the plot and explained processes such as double exposure and plate photography to her young readers, who will likely only be familiar with the ease of taking photos on mobile phones.
In addition to this historical aspect, the book is also strong on themes of friendship, family, love and loyalty. Each of the three children miss a beloved family member. Leander pines for his mother, Charlotte longs to be reunited with her uncle and Felix searches tirelessly for his little brother. The bond of friendship that forms between the three children is powerful and uplifting. They risk their lives for each other, soothe and support one another, and work together against a seemingly unstoppable foe.
The Vanishing Trick is an atmospheric page-turner packed full of otherworldly magic and mystery. Step into the eerie world of seances, tarot cards, charms and enchantments and join Leander, Felix and Charlotte as they fight to break free from Madame Pinchbeck’s clutches.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me this book to review. I reviewed it as part of The Vanishing Trick blog tour where Jenni talked to me about the superstitions and British folklore that influenced the book. Click here to find out more.