In the far corner of the abattoir, on the other side of the back wall below the shaft, the shadows were unnaturally dark. And they shifted and churned. Something was there. Something else was in the abattoir with my aunt.
“Des!” I screamed it. “Get out!”
I couldn’t see her face, but the terror in my aunt’s voice told me everything I needed to know. She didn’t scream at me, or even yell. Instead her voice came out as a wailing sort of moan.
Welcome to Blight Harbor, where the supernatural is just…normal. Evie lives there with her aunt and local paranormal expert, Desdemona. As the seventh-most haunted town in America (per capita), the residents of Blight Harbor are used to ghosts and other spooky goings-on.
But something else is out there, hiding in the old abattoir. When Aunt D goes to investigate, it steals her away, and Evie is the only one who can bring her back. She’ll need to travel to another world, full of dangerous games and dark denizens, all while being hunted by something even worse. A dark, foreboding presence in the abattoir offers to help her, but can she really trust The Clackity?
If you like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, then you’ll love The Clackity. Coraline has a certain something to it, a style that is hard to describe, and nothing has quite scratched that itch again until now. However don’t go into this book thinking that it’s the same, or that it leans heavily on the former – the similarities are only shades, and have their own unique style that suits the story, characters, and setting perfectly.
The beginning has an excellent balance between setting the scene, and drawing you in. We’ve read plenty of books that throw you immediately into the action, something Senf doesn’t do. Rather, she takes the time to introduce you to the town and its unique situation – and the situation is so unique that you’re immediately hooked!
The story takes Evie and the reader through a variety of different locations and situations, drawing inspiration from the folktales and fairy tales of old but with their own twists (which I won’t spoil here!). There is a candy cottage in the woods, magic trees, witches offering gifts, even a story thief who references some well-known tales such as Rapunzel and Snow White. This approach does an excellent job of giving us something familiar, but warped just enough to leave you on the edge of your seat, uncertain what will happen next.
The characters are written with wit and humour, but also humanity – at least, the ones that are human! Our heroine Evie is 12 years old, and although forthright and independent, she also suffers from panic attacks. They say that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, but rather being afraid and doing it anyway, and that certainly is the case for Evie. Her willingness to push through for what’s important and those she loves is both touching and inspiring.
The other characters that make up the story are just as well-written. Desdemona feels like a loving parental figure, but one that also has her own interests and hobbies, rather than simply existing for the sake of Evie. And the same can be said for others such as the witches and the penny-eyed ghosts; they feel like real characters, whether friendly, cold, or tragic, not just plot devices used to propel the story.
Conversely, both the Clackity and the ghost of John Jeffrey Pope are horrific in their own ways. If anything, Pope is worse as he actually used to be a man, unlike the monstrous Clackity. The way the Clackity creeps around, keeping an eye on Evie, is unsettling; an unknowing creature with its own agenda. But the way Pope follows Evie throughout the other world, whistling, with a smile and a wave, is truly chilling.
One of the things that is noted during the story is that Evie lives with her aunt because her parents went missing. Although they’ve been ruled dead, Evie knows that they’re still out there somewhere. Any other book would have thrown in some heavy breadcrumbs, or revealed a major clue, but I think that the fact that The Clackity doesn’t is a strength. By not making them the focus, the reader is given time to connect to the existing characters and setting, rather than being whisked on too quickly.
Throughout the story we are treated to Alfredo Cáceres fantastic illustrations, black and white except for splashes of orange on the cover. They convey a sense of otherworldly-ness perfect for Blight Harbor, which is then ramped up when Evie passes into the other realm. Cáceres takes Senf’s descriptions and gives them form, sometimes in a direct image, sometimes in a more metaphorical or figurative way, but always striking. (My personal favourite is of the set of houses in the other world!)
The Clackity is a gripping and thrilling read, perfect for older middle-grade readers this spooky season. Although its setting is fantastical, its themes of bravery, family, struggles and hope shine through, and will be relatable for many readers. It’s worth noting that it does deal with some slightly darker themes (for e.g., serial killers), so please keep this in mind for your young bookworms!
As the first in the series, we think it’s a brilliant start, and a cracking debut for Senf. The second in the series, The Nighthouse Keeper has only just come out, and we’re looking forward to picking up a copy and joining Evie and Aunt D in Blight Harbor again!
If you want to visit Blight Harbor, you can grab a copy of The Clackity at the link below.
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Looking for more spooky books? If so, you can see our previous reviews here.