Title: The Girl in Wooden Armour | Author: Conrad Mason | Publisher: David Fickling Books | Genre: Middlegrade Fantasy | 288 pages
When Hattie visits her granny for the first time in years, she’s not sure what to expect. Granny has always been unusual. Now she’s gone missing without trace…Hattie is determined to find her. But in the strange little village where Granny lives, nothing is as it seems. Is magic real here? What is the shadowy place known as the Un Forest? And who is the mysterious girl in wooden armour? One thing is certain. An ancient evil is stirring in Brokewood-on-Tandle… and only Hattie can stand against it.
When you start the book, the overall foundation is all too familiar. Hattie lives with her father and her little brother in London, alone, after her mother had died years ago. Dead parent trope, check. Throw a missing relative and some magic in the mix and you have a rather basic Middlegrade book.
BUT! And it’s big but – while all this might seem familiar, the clothes this basic foundation is dressed in, is beautiful and different and I loved it.
What I noticed first about this book, is its wonderful gloomy atmosphere. It’s not enough to really scare you but it’s enough to make you uneasy. Rainy, muddy and dirty, forgotten, rotten, dark and damp are words that come to mind. It’s not so much of an adventure as a horror story with monsters creeping and a haunting gloom over everything.
Come to think of it, it does not have the air of a ghoststory: this book really depends on the creeping feeling you get, of your fear of the dark and good old-fashioned body-horror. I loved it. Give me real terror over jump scares every day.
Now, that I have finished this book for some time, I have to say that the atmosphere is what stayed the most with me.
The main character, Hattie, was very likable. She obviously loved the father and brother and also her grandmother who she had not seen in a while. When it turns out that her grandmother is missing, she is the driving force, the main person to worry about her. Her worries and willingness to break some rules for her grandmother, even though she was usually more inclined to follow them, made her very likable. I was happy with Hattie’s characterisation in general, her quietness and thoughtfulness. She was not boastfull or brash like others and I quite enjoyed that.
The story itself has many twists and turns and a lot of monsters and hopelessness. It seemed rather real to me, for a fantasy book, especially because Hattie was so scared and more likely to give in to threats, because really, it’s how a normal person would have reacted. With running. With being terrified. With giving the bad guys whatever they want because you would never risk the safty of your loved-ones. There is so much darkness and ruthlessness in this book, a quiet violence that I enjoyed because it was not flashy or over the top.
There is something I was absolutely not happy with and that was Hattie’s Dad. While it’s later explained why he acted how he acted, it is often stated that, after her mother died, he asked of Hattie to be sensible and not make any fuss for her brother’s sake. Be sensible. Be the bigger person. Be careful and don’t do anything rash. Basically, don’t have any negative emotions.
MAN, that’s how covert narcicists are made! By making children surpressing their emotions. It’s just much too much pressure to put on a young childs shoulders and I HATED it. I was almost hoping that Hattie’s dad would be eaten or something. It pissed me off so much.
In the end, I loved this book because of its atmosphere and its difference to other books of this genre. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it felt real, even with all the magic in it. It had a likable heroine, who loves her small family, and who was oh, so relatable. In between all the danger and the magic were also some very real family troubles and it fit rather well in there. I really quite enjoyed this book and will gladly read any other books the author will publish.