Jack Henseleit, The Vampire Knife (The Witching Hours #1), Hardie Grant Egmont, 1 August 2017, 240pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760129255
Anna and Max are siblings on their way to Transylvania with their Dad, the Professor, who needs to visit a library there for his studies. He seems a bit absentminded, but Henseleit makes it clear he loves his kids. Their relationship – of which there should be more in the book – is fun and the author conveys the warmth of that wonderfully.
While Max and Anna squabble, their relationship is another aspect that Henseleit shows off so well – it’s warm, even when Anna is trying to scare Max.
Their Dad leaves them at an inn with Mrs Dalca and her granddaughter Isabella. While Mrs Dalca is somewhat scary, Isabella, Anna and Max become fast friends. That night though, Max is kidnapped and so begins the main part of the story.
Henseleit is an extremely atmospheric writer, who has a marvellous handle on pacing which creates a sense of urgency when the girls set off to try and rescue Max. There are simple drawings in the book that add to this, and the constant storm and darkness adds to the overall picture of danger and horror.
While the threesome become fast friends, it’s through Isabella and Anna working together – with their magical knife — to find Max, that the strength of their relationship and the book shines through. Isabella seems to be the more practical of the twosome, while Anna is fearless, perhaps rushing in where she shouldn’t, but her heart is always in the right place. They drive the main part of the action, and I cannot tell you how much fun it is to read about these intrepid young girls heading off to save the day, from vampires no less.
But, besides the vampire, they face bears, fairies and wolves before they find Max and mount a daring rescue. The book is tremendously well-paced, never straying too much into horror but with just enough adventure, darkness and spookiness to keep young readers engaged. The siblings’ relationship and their friendship with Isabella is strong, and the ending of the book leaves the door open for them to continue to share adventures even if they may be separated by distance.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow