Review by Ian Keogh
Laitham is a small coastal community that transforms at night when the supernatural beings emerge. They’re relatively good natured despite their calling on the unknown, while the Weirns of the title are witches who’re accompanied for life by a demon guardian, a black bundle of fur known as an Astral. Ailis Maeve Thornton is the focus, seen on the cover with her cousin Na’ya, in their ways and attitudes normal girls just entering their teens, although Na’ya’s utter conviction she’s destined to be a dragon is a little out of the ordinary. Having grown up with their guardians, they’re used to their ways. Ailis’ is relatively obedient, although prone to shedding fur in quantity, but others have trouble controlling their companion.
For her background Svetlana Chmakova filters in from the best. The idea of Weirn children having a demon attached to them comes from His Dark Materials, while a school for supernatural children has been popularised by Harry Potter. However, the borrowing is only the building blocks, and Chmakova takes readers on a wild journey from there.
Laitham’s mystery is the old school house, off limits to all children as two generations previously a suspect headmistress disappeared along with several children. Had Ailis’ grandmother attended school that day she’d be among the missing along with her twin brother. The town’s best investigative minds have failed to find a solution over the decades, and having passed on the warnings, Chmakova’s plot inevitably takes the cast toward the old school house.
Japanese culture influences the art. The astrals aren’t far removed from the type of masked entities seen in Japanese comics, and Chmakova fuses a manga style for character expressions within her pages. She keeps the art simple, telling the story with few distractions, but when detail is required, it’s present. An interesting departure from artistic convention as far as children’s stories are concerned is that the villain for the most part looks kindly and attractive.
This is being marketed for all ages, but there are what will be prolonged scary moments for the youngest children, so some parental discretion is advised. Chmakova foreshadows well, creates a foreboding atmosphere, and sets up several possible developments for a sequel that hasn’t as yet appeared.
The title may prove confusing for those looking up The Weirn Books as there’s been a previous Weirn Books Volume 1 by Chmakova, except this was a 2106 publication combining the first two volumes of her Night School series.