Books & Literature

Book Review: Her Perilous Mansion, by Sean Williams

MIDDLE GRADE: In a strange mansion miles from anywhere, an orphan named Almanac and a twelfth daughter named Etta soon realise that the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem.

a story full of mystery and magic suitable for the whole family.
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Adelaide-based writer Sean Williams is the author of over 50 books, mostly science fiction/fantasy. His stories can be found on the shelves of people of all ages, but are usually directed at teenagers and young adults. Her Perilous Mansion is, however, aimed at a slightly younger audience than Williams usually writes for, as the lead characters are 12 and 13 years of age. 

Her Perilous Mansion, set in the 19th centuryis the story of Almanac and Etta. Almanac is an orphan with an amazing memory while Etta (short for Regret) is the youngest of 12 unwanted daughters. Both get an invitation to work at a mansion a long way from anywhere. But when they arrive, strange things happen. There is no one to greet them at the door and as they begin to meet the inhabitants of the mansion, they soon realise that they actually haven’t seen any of them. 

And so begins their journey of discovery which turns into a race against time, as they use all their cunning and nerve to try to find out exactly what is happening in the house and why. Unfortunately, working together is harder than it should be as they don’t seem to be able to agree on anything. Their first task is to find out why they both remember the name of the mansion differently. Is it Sir Palemoon’s Ruin or Spoilnieu Manors? Who is correct?

The children have lots of puzzles to work out along the way and the reader is drawn into the mystery as more clues appear and more questions are raised. 

Her Perilous Mansion is set in a world where magic exists but not everyone has the gift. The names of the 11 sisters of Etta are a joy; all seemingly normal, but short for something else (Annie for Anguish and Missy from Misery). It was lots of fun trying to guess their real names. 

Although Almanac and Etta can’t see them, each person living in the mansion has a unique personality, and as readers, we find their characters quirky, funny and, at times, a little bit sad. We can almost smell the cellar as Almanac sifts through the rubbish and we feel the frustration of the children and other inhabitants as they get tantalisingly close to the truth before it is ripped away from them. 

Sean Williams is a wonderful storyteller. He is able to make each character come alive. His writing style is easy to read. The front cover illustration is colourful, mysterious and inviting, with a touch of sparkle. 

In Her Perilous Mansion, the reader is taken on a journey of discovery along with the two children. It has tension, laughter, and “Aha!” moments. The story is a great read and one that middle years/early teenage readers will enjoy. It might even be loved by the whole family.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Allen and Unwin
Released: April 2020
RRP: $16.99

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