Jon Mayhew, The Bonehill Curse

Bloomsbury, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4088-0397-4

We first meet Necessity Bonehill as she fells a champion boxer. She is in trousers and her hair is tucked away under a flat cap. Unusual garb, and unusual behaviour, for a Victorian school girl. But not much about Necessity is conventional. Her behaviour gets her into constant trouble at Rookery Heights Academy for Young Ladies, where her parents have effectively imprisoned her. Their lack of love and concern cause her perpetual anguish. She is furious with her lot, and she lets everyone know it. Her room-mates in particular bear the brunt of her anger: she bullies them and steals from them without compunction. She has just one friend, the elderly and equally idiosyncratic Sergeant Major Morris. It is from him that she has learnt the art of boxing, as well as rifle shooting and sword craft.

Necessity’s life changes when she receives a strange bottle from an uncle, along with instructions that she is never to open it. Of course she cannot resist doing so. Smoke and a dreadful smell of decay issue out, followed by a skeletal figure, who wreaks appalling destruction on the room and its other occupants. Introducing himself to Necessity as a djinn, he offers her one wish. Even as she makes it, he warns her that she will regret it.

Accused of poisoning the girls in her room, Necessity escapes to London, determined to find her parents, only to discover their house in smoking ruins. The djinn has got there first, and now he pursues her, and brings plague into the heart of the city. A boy called Azuli pulls her away, and takes her to the mysterious Lashkars of Sulayman who have a sacred duty to destroy all the djinns in the world. The djinn Necessity has released is the only one remaining. Azuli and Necessity take it on themselves to hunt down him down, but through their mistakes they put themselves in terrible danger, and innocent people die. An epic struggle gets under way, as the Lashkars, Azuli and Necessity seek a way to get the djinn back in the bottle.

The third in a loosely linked Victorian trilogy, but fine as a stand-alone novel, The Bonehill Curse is exciting, full of adventure, very atmospheric, and with compelling characterisation. Necessity is a great creation. We watch her develop from a hot-headed bully into a much more sympathetic, though still highly spirited, individual. A book with lots to offer to both boys and girls.