‘’Over the tone in her ears rose his guttural war cry, so pained and naked that it sliced through her anaesthetised dullness and her heart wanted to split down the middle and the only way she could stop terror from ripping her apart was to scream too.’’

Delphine Venner is a thirteen-year-old girl living in 1935 Norfolk. War is looming, and Delphine is the most unlikely wannabe soldier as she spends her days daydreaming about guns and what it would be like to fight on the front line.  When Delphine is forced to spend some time living at Alderberen Hall in an attempt to aid her father’s unstable mind, she becomes determined to uncover the secrets of the estate and those who inhabit it. Delphine is convinced that the Hall’s elite society are planning something terrible and the deeper that she explores within the house via the secret network of hidden passages woven throughout the estate, she begins to uncover a world far more frightening than she could ever have imagined.

The Honours is an incredibly exciting novel that follows the attempts of the young heroine to unravel the secrets that surround her in a setting where everybody seems to ignore her, and nobody but her seems to notice that their world is about to be tipped upside down. It mixes together multiple genres such as historical, fantasy, detective and coming-of-age whilst being beautifully written and surprisingly poignant at times. It is set predominantly in Alderberen Hall, where the elderly Lazarus Stokeham, 4th Earl of Alderberen, is playing host to a number of extravagant characters for the use of The Society for the Perpetual Improvement of Man. The residents are undergoing a programme overseen by the mysterious Ivanovitch Propp, who claims that by following his programme they will be absolved of their issues. Delphine overhears Lord Alderberen and Mr Propp having a heated conversation and becomes convinced that they are Bolshevik kidnappers, and sets out to prove this. The setting of the Alderberen country house is brilliant; it adds to the mystery of the novel as the estate itself is full of hidden passage ways and her suspects are in close quarters, allowing Delphine to explore and investigate to her advantage.

The fantasy aspect is very well woven into the second half of the novel, with little hints of it scattered throughout prior to it coming into full-force. As soon as the real action starts happening, the story is propelled into a whirlwind of drama and conflict, red-herrings and unusual monsters. A new dimension is created as so many things start happening at once, and it is almost impossible to tell where everything is going to lead. The characters really come into their own in the second half of the novel too, as their world changes beyond recognition and they are left wrestling with forces that they could never have imagined. There were characters who had otherwise appeared completely unlikeable but at this point were able to expose a part of their personality that made them appear less one-dimensional, thus giving more depth to their character.

There are a number of very interesting characters within this novel, including the contemptuous Dr Lansley, Ivanovitch Propp, Delphine’s fragile father and her gamekeeper-turned-mentor Mr Garforth – all of whom are very well-built characters, and add to the suspense as you become invested in their outcomes. The highlight of the novel, however, is Delphine herself. She is very brilliantly realised, and has the tenacity and curiosity to pull off the role of the investigator and the fighter that she becomes, whilst staying true to her age. It is often difficult to tell whether or not Delphine is jumping to conclusions in her investigations, as she has a wild imagination that always keeps the reader guessing. Her relationship with gamekeeper Mr Garforth was charming, and one of the highlights of the novel.

I loved The Honours, it reminded me of the type of book that made me fall in love with reading in the first place. It has a solid, likeable protagonist and is paced well as there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. It expertly mixes together the genres of historical fiction and fantasy, taking the reader into places that they could never have expected whilst staying true to the time. The only real criticism that I can think of is that there are a few characters or relationships that I would have liked to have been explored further – for example, I very much enjoyed Professor Algernon Carmichael as a character but did not feel as though there were enough moments to let his personality really shine through. Overall, it is a real rip-roaring mystery that grips the reader from start to finish. I highly recommend reading this book, and cannot wait to see what else Tim Clare has in store for us. 

Published by Erin Deakin