The cat stared sadly after Amelia. ‘I’ll miss you,’ he miaowed. And Amelia stared sadly after the cat. Charles Dickens stayed standing in the street, watching the raggedy, soot-covered, bare-footed orphan girl head off to spend Christmas in the workhouse.
(The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig. P84.)
Amelia Wishart is trapped in the workhouse. Her mother died last year, and Amelia vowed she wouldn’t see another Christmas in the workhouse. Vowed she would find a way to escape. After a year of being tormented and punished by the horrible Mr Creeper, Amelia has given up hope. Not even Father Christmas has come to her rescue. So much for the magic of Christmas.
Meanwhile, Elfhelm survives a troll attack. Christmas was cancelled once, and Father Christmas is determined it won’t happen again. The Magic is fading. If Christmas is to happen, Father Christmas knows he needs to find Amelia, the girl whose hope once saved Christmas.
A search begins – everyone, from elves and chestnut sellers to Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria helps Father Christmas with his hunt for Amelia.
This is the second book in Matt Haig’s Christmas series. I seem to be reading them backwards – although the adventures stand alone, and are enjoyable without previous knowledge, you do learn things about previous plots so I would recommend reading in order.
Where Father Christmas And Me was set entirely in/around Elfhelm, The Girl Who Saved Christmas has action in Elfhelm and Dickensian London. Matt Haig is great at building setting with details, and has done a good job of Victorian London. He makes a great contrast between the lives of the wealthy, like Dickens and Mr Creeper, and people experiencing different levels of poverty. I missed the pure Drimwickery – that’s magic – of a whole book set in Elfhelm, but not because London wasn’t done well.
Amelia’s story touches on the issue many children have with Christmas. If Father Christmas is magic, why can’t he do the impossible. In Amelia’s case, she wants her mother’s life to be saved. The resolution has a strong message about emotions, and the real-life magic of happiness – it can’t undo what has happened, but can remind you that the world can and will feel magical again. I like the gentle magic of Drimwickery. It touches on something we all experience in our lives.
As mentioned in my review of Father Christmas And Me, I think Matt Haig and Chris Mould are a strong partnership. The Girl Who Saved Christmas confirmed this. I particularly love the selfie-style illustrations of animals – the reindeer and Amelia’s black cat Captain Soot. It’s lovely to see a middle-grade book with memorable illustrations. This has happened in the past. Narnia would be different without Pauline Baynes, for example, and Dahl without Blake. The fashion changed, and illustrations were largely left out of Middle Grade books. I’m pleased to see them make a comeback. At times I read the illustrations as much as the text, and it was a joyous experience.
I can’t wait to read book one. A book from Matt Haig looks set to become a Christmas tradition, and I can tell you, it beats Seasonal Dr Who.
Thanks to the lovely people at Canongate who sent a copy in exchange for honest review.