Ghostcloud by Michael Mann

(Reviewed for Hachette Children’s Group, Hodder Children’s Books, from a free copy supplied by Netgalley.com)

First, the cover blurb…

Catch the wind. Find your freedom.

A riveting, magical adventure set deep underneath a richly reimagined London for 9+ readers.

Kidnapped and forced to shovel coal underneath a half-bombed, blackened power station, 12-year-old Luke’s life is miserable. Then, he discovers he can see things others can’t. Ghostly things. Specifically, a ghost-girl named Alma. Alma, who can ride clouds through the night sky and bend their shape to her will, befriends Luke. And with Alma’s help, Luke discovers he is in fact a rare being – half-human and half-something else …

Then Luke learns the terrible truth of why children are being kidnapped and forced to work in the power station, and he becomes even more desperate to escape.

Can Luke find out who he really is … and find his freedom?

***

Ghostcloud is set in a London that is blighted by the after-effects of a war with Europe, high levels of pollution, and crippling poverty. It’s hard not to assume that this is the author making his own personal comment on Brexit and Britain today, and I imagine some children, especially those who might take an interest in current affairs, will find this scenario quite alarming enough on its own.

Ghostcloud is a classic battle of good versus evil, with moments of despair, high drama, joy, optimism and suspense. There’s also a thread about self-determination clashing with loyalty to your friends throughout Luke’s mission to escape his imprisonment. I especially loved the villain, Tabatha; she’s a classic malevolent genius in a style which made me conjure up similar female baddies from Roald Dahl and Hans Christian Andersen with more than a sprinkling of Cruella De Vil.

The mechanics of the ghostclouds are well thought through and make absolute sense in that suspension of disbelief way that all good fantasy novels push us into.

All in all, a very original story for children, and it’s great that it doesn’t rely on the, frankly, tired-feeling tropes of magical fantasy.