Allison Rushby, When This Bell Rings, Walker Books Australia, September 2020, 229 pp., RRP $17.99 (pbk), ISBN 9761760651947
Allison Rushby’s previous books have had a slightly spooky element and a feisty heroine (the delightfully named Flossie Birdwhistle in The Turnkey, for example) who has to battle sinister enemies. Tamsin is the hero of When this Bell Rings and, once again, she is brave and resourceful. The enemies she has to battle are the Ravens, the birds who normally live in the Tower of London as safeguards have, ironically, become human-sized and threatening in this story. They rule London through a series of bells (think Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clement’s), eliminating those who try to oppose them and brainwashing others to do the Ravens’ bidding. Tamsin joins with three others to defeat the Ravens and return London to normality.
The structure of the book is intriguing as it employs the device of a story within a story. The books of the graphic novelist Edie St Clair are wildly popular and the world is excitedly awaiting the completion of her tenth and final book. She, however, is ill and also unable to think of the ‘right’ ending for the series. This story frames that of the adventures of Tamsin, Kit, Wilf and Bes who must defeat the Ravens to bring the books to a conclusion. The story within the story is metafictional as gradually Tamsin and the reader come to realise that she is not quite as she first seemed though there are hints earlier on – such as her name (meaning twin) and her similarity in appearance to the author Edie. Edie has in fact created Tamsin as purely an imaginary character to help her draw the ending for the books. There are constant references within the adventure story of the need for the ending to be the ‘right’ one, how the author might do this, and the device of Tamsin drawing herself into the story as a character. This all makes for an intriguing structure.
The characterisation is strong and the interaction between the main characters is convincing. The setting is strong, and we get some bird’s-eye views of London as the group flies with shape-changing Bes. The Ravens are suitably sinister, menacing and omnipresent. In this book, as in Rushby’s earlier books, the barrier between the human and faerie (or ghostly) worlds can be breached and this can cause dire consequences. Reversing this is the task Tamsin and her colleagues have to complete in order to defeat the Ravens. The story thus has a mixture of adventure and fantasy, making for an exciting read.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel