If you like YA fantasy, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a must-read. Set aside your comparisons with Harry Potter (inevitable forevermore when an author combines boarding school and witches, not to mention competitions and curses), because Miss Mabel’s is an all-girls boarding school, and Bianca Monroe is far from a “smart girl” stereotype in a witch hat. She struggles with homework, prefers practical study to book learning, adores her family, can’t bear to be caged in… and then there’s that deadly curse she needs to get rid of. To live past the age of seventeen, she has to negotiate with an ultra-glamorous and deadly devious witch who’s playing a much deeper game than anyone knows.
It’s a page-turner that will tempt you to read it all in one sitting, staying up past your bedtime or whatever it takes. The characters are engaging, and the plot clips along with enough unexpected twists to keep you guessing. Don’t expect romance — the only men we see are Bianca’s father and the old coachman — but the plot doesn’t need it. Do expect some darker elements; there’s illness, pain, nasty curses, a couple of deaths, and hints of impending war (so readers below middle school might not be ready for it). This book would make a fabulous movie.
The message? You can be as strong as you need to be.
Favourite quote? “It felt good, mixing fear with a bit of courage, making me feel like I stood up to her, when really I depended on her for my life.”
How I found this book? I know the author through Facebook and am on her launch team — go, Katie!
4.5 stars • rare • truly excellent, blew me away, unforgettable
My Interview with Katie Cross
Kella: Could you tell me a little about the world of the Network, beyond the book?
Katie: Yes! And then we’ll make this an exclusive interview that no one else has. Ha!
Kella: Does everyone there do at least some magic — is it a world entirely of witches?
Katie: It’s a world of just witches… for now. Although, off the record, there’s a distinct possibilities that mortals could make a reappearance in some vague future book.
Kella: I get the sense that it’s a relatively low-tech world of horse-drawn carriages and candles; is there any interest in technology, or does everyone rely on magic for progress?
Katie: It’s all kinds of Medieval! Which is, for me, part of the appeal. Bianca (my main character) doesn’t need her iMac to be bad ass, which is awesome. I envy her courage.
Kella: There are some references to potential war between the Networks… what would that involve? A magical war, like a large-scale multi-person Mactos?
Katie: War, which is inevitable for this world, will involve both magic and brute strength. Each Network has their own kind of culture around the magic, which means they will all fight it differently. I haven’t actually figured that out entirely yet. I’m still in negotiations with the East.
Kella: You mention some coins called sacrans and pentacles; how does the money system work? Is everything done by payment with coins, or is it a world where one might also barter, or incur obligations by doing favours?
Katie: There are coins, but many people take care of things on a bartering level. For example, I would easily buy twelve of Miss Celia’s cinnamon buns for a pentacle. Whereas she’ll sometimes trade them for new material for an apron.
Kella: So, which character was the hardest for you to write?
Katie: Bianca, the main character. I felt like I didn’t really find her until later drafts. Once I found her though, she was an open book. She’s got a snarky side that’s pretty easy to like.
Kella: Why did you choose to write a YA Fantasy series?
Katie: I kind of felt like the book chose me, if that makes any sense. It just seemed to fall out of me. The first draft only took seven weeks to write.
Kella: Who inspires you?
Katie: Pinterest. Seriously. I love to stroll through the boards when I’m stuck. Husband is a big inspiration to me because he’s constantly pushing himself to be better and strive higher. There’s nothing he can’t do and I think that’s incredible.
Kella: What is your personal favourite line from Miss Mabel’s School for Girls?
Katie: Oh, there are so many. Bianca’s a true snark at heart so I’m going to give you two —
“I’m Bianca Monroe and I run in the woods with my skirts up.
I also don’t know how to steep or pour tea.”
“I am more than what they train me to be.”