I was reminded of a cross between Hogwarts and Miss Peregrine’s schools. After her mother catches her floating in her sleep, Amy is sent to an all-girls boarding school, Drearcliff-Grange, that she discovers is actually intended for girls with special abilities like her, and/or daughters of famous criminals, scientists, and magicians. The school is divided up into houses as in Harry Potter, but unlike Harry Potter, these houses are named for Shakesperean ladies: Viola, Goneril, Desdemona, Tamora, and Ariel (even though Prospero’s spirit is referred to as ‘he’ in The Tempest). Also like Harry Potter, each house includes a specific type of student: Viola are drama-queens, Desdemona are the feisty ones (this is Amy’s house, although she would have been put in Ariel had she enrolled at the beginning of the year), Goneril are athletes, Tamora are terrors, and Ariel are snobs. There’s the mysterious, seemingly all-knowing Headmistress, Dr Myrna Swan, who seems to know things about Amy and her friend. A slight difference is that the Head Girl Sidonie Gryce and her Prefects are somewhat evil, except Prefect Dora Paule, who is a little strange even by Unusual standards.
Students who are Unusual, like Amy, are encouraged to pursue an ‘enthusiasm’. Amy really likes moths; she collects sketches since she doesn’t approve of killing them. This is where the Ms Peregrine aspect comes in: abilities not magic, and the time period. Since the story is set in a 1930ish period (WW era events are alluded to), the girls who have the ability to be spies, leaders, etc. have to be trained as such, and also educated to handle/marry men who have influence in such areas. Amy’s moth hobby becomes more important when one of her dorm-mates is kidnapped, leading her and her friends to for The Moth Club, a team of investigators who have moth-themed code-names. Amy becomes Kentish Glory, because that breed is from her home area. When she wear her costume and mask, Amy starts to find out that she is a far more confident leader and investigator. She will need these skills once they find Kali, because as it so happens, there another more sinister (and possibly supernatural) problem brewing at her school.
And so we’re back to Harry Potter, with the Moth Club standing in for the DA as Dr Swan is removed/disappears. What happens is a new girl, whose enthusiasms are apparently ants and jumping rope, Rayne, appears and somehow takes over the school. Girls who fall under her spell start wearing a new uniform with a black skirt (hence ‘Black Skirts’) and teachers who don’t join them disappear. There is a massive final battle, after which (unlike Harry Potter) the headmistress returns and all is revealed. Except that it isn’t.
I liked the characters and the plot worked up until the end. This is where my two smallish complaints come in. First, while it is made clear who was behind Rayne’s mysterious abilities, why and how are not. This bugged me (pun kinda intended); I want to know what exactly was Rayne really, and did she willingly participate? And during the battle, Amy and Dora get sucked into The Purple, where Amy has a vision of her future (and those of her friends). This part seemed a little bit of a cop out, and a way to not have to explain what was going on directly. What some of Amy’s friends become make sense, like May herself and Light Fingers. Frecks not so much. I liked this character, but the change in her in her future self was a little too much for me. It’s not that the change is improbable; I can actually see that in her younger self. I just don’t like that she was turned into, among other things, a boy-crazy socialite.
In the grand scheme of things, I hope Amy and co. have many more adventures ahead of them for me to read. After all, Amy’s only Fourth Form by the end, so why shouldn’t we get to see those last few years of school?