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WITHERING-BY-SEA by Judith Rossell, begins, wonderfully enough, with a gloomy and dank Victorian sanatorium called the Hotel Majestic. It is in this oppressive manse, overlooking the sea and inhabited by the ailing and the elderly, that young Stella Montgomery lives with her three dour and strict aunts. Aunt Condolence, Aunt Temperance and Aunt Deliverance spend their days in the healing baths of the hotel, tended by their maids, and tutoring Stella in etiquette and French. When Stella witnesses a terrible crime she finds herself the caretaker of a magical, and potentially dangerous, object and the bad guys will stop at nothing to get it from her.

WITHERING-BY-SEA is an atmospheric adventure that blends magic and family drama. Stella is a lovely and determined heroine...

Stella's one consolation in her lonely life is an Atlas she found. In its pages she learns about the wider world and dreams about exploring it. One night, having snuck into the conservatory with her Atlas, Stella watches, horrified, as a man is murdered. But Stella is discovered by the evil Professor Starke and his henchman and they realize that before he died, Mr. Filbert gave her the magical bottle that they meant to steal when they killed him. Now Stella must outrun them and do her best to keep the bottle --- and its mysterious contents --- out of their hands. Her flight from her pursuers brings her to Mr. Capelli, a kind-hearted travelling performer. Mr. Capelli, along with his singing cats, hides Stella from Starke's goons and, perhaps most importantly, offers her some much needed kindness. Next Stella meets Gert, a bold and brave dancer who is ultimately kidnapped along with Stella and taken to Starke's desolate island hideaway. It is there that Gert and Stella, along with a boy named Ben who is magically under Starke's control, fight against Starke, trying to prevent him from releasing the devastating power that lives in the bottle.

All the while Stella is running for her life and meeting new friends, she is trying to work out the truth about her own identity. Her aunts never told her much and a family picture makes her think that perhaps she had a twin. She is also becoming convinced that she has some magical powers of her own. But, the answers she needs are back at the Hotel Majestic with her aunts so she will need to evade Professor Starke and get back home safely to get them.

WITHERING-BY-SEA is an atmospheric adventure that blends magic and family drama. Stella is a lovely and determined heroine and her three aunts are stern and just short of scary. Despite the violence in the book, it is not inappropriate for readers as young as eight as Rossell's focus in on Stella's journey toward self-realization, her new found friendships, and the magic that is the catalyst for the action. Rossell's illustrations compliment the story perfectly. This is a great start to a new series.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 7, 2016

by Judith Rossell

  • Publication Date: March 21, 2017
  • Genres: Children's 8-12, Fantasy, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1481443682
  • ISBN-13: 9781481443685