Book Review – The Secret Of White Stone Gate by Julia Nobel

Pages: 304
Published: 3rd March 2020
Genre: Middle grade
Trigger warnings: References to suicide

Just like with the first book in this series, this was a buddy read with Noly. We were very excited to meet the characters again and as usual we had some really fun discussions.

After spending the summer at home, Emmy cannot wait to return to Wellsworth for the new school year and reunite with her best friends, Lola and Jack. Before she leaves Emmy receives a note from her father telling her to hide the remaining relics The Order of Black Hollow Lane are after—and to trust no one.

When Lola is framed for a serious crime she didn’t commit, Emmy knows that she and her friends are not safe. The Order wants Emmy to give up her father’s location… if she doesn’t, those she loves will pay the price.

Emmy and Jack need to figure out a way to clear Lola’s name without bending to the Order’s sinister demands. And Emmy needs to figure out who she can trust with her secrets before it’s too late.

This was a sequel that contained a lot of excitement and high stakes, but also a fair amount of plot holes. The pace is breathless and the characters are as engaging as ever in what turns out to be another enchanting read, only this time it lacks that little bit of fluidity and cohesion to really measure up to the standard of its predecessor.

The series is aimed towards a middle grade audience, and once again the author is absolutely spot on with the tone and the fact the story never stands still. There is the hint of a thriller element here as it casts doubt on numerous characters before building up to an eventful and rather chaotic finale that somewhat frustratingly provides us with just as many questions as answers.

A short time after the end of her eventful first year at Wellsworth boarding school, Emmy Willick is only allowed to return on the basis that she stays with her mother’s cousin Lucy, a self-important woman who is totally bereft of warmth. Towards the end of the summer, she is rescued by her best friend Lola and her mother Madam Boyd, who has received a message from Emmy’s elusive father.

They head to the bank, where Emmy sets up a top secret bank vault to protect herself from the Order of Black Hollow Lane, who have pursued her ever since she first discovered the identity of her father. Once back at school, she takes part in a fundraising event and at the end all the money they have taken goes missing, with very damaging consequences.

Emmy suspects that Brynn – a suitably shady character – is really the one responsible, so she and her friend Jack enlist the help of new boy Sam to spy on him. Meanwhile, as Emmy begins to get frustrated at the lack of information she is told about her father, she also becomes aware that the Order desperately want something from her. In order to force her hand, they target those closest to her.

At first it felt like this would be full of the similarities to Harry Potter that were a feature of the first book, but that aspect soon subsided and the story became quite promising. There was certainly tension in the air as at one stage nearly every supporting character was coming under suspicion and it was extremely difficult to know who to trust, so this lifted the intrigue by an extra notch.

The problem is that the longer it goes on, the more complicated it gets and the plot gradually loses all semblance of direction. What partially makes up for it is that it is entertaining and some surprising things happen, but the action takes place at 100 miles per hour and eventually I was almost losing track of what was going on.

Emmy is still a smart, selfless and headstrong protagonist, even though she is given less of a chance to shine this time around. Written in the third person, her inner conflicts and exasperation at being kept in the dark about her father are captured well, while Sam’s arrival provides the merest hint of a potential romance although much of the focus is on the main plot.

Speaking of Sam, he was an interesting character and as soon as he was introduced I had a bad feeling about him, but the author keeps you guessing on that score right up until the end. In contrast, Oli was much easier to work out and while it hard not to sympathise with him at times, he also made some really bad choices.

One character I absolutely felt sad for in this book was Lola, as literally everything goes wrong for her, but she still has that tenacity and spirit that make her such fun to read. I liked that Jack was developed more here and gathered the strength to stand up to his family, and Master Barlowe somehow still carried with him a sense of the unknown.

Madam Boyd is also a fun character to read but for some reason she seemed to evaporate from the story about halfway through and was not seen again. And Lucy was so annoying. This may be a book aimed at a younger audience and that will go some way to explaining her meanness, but every time she appeared it made me feel angry and want to shout at her!

Wellsworth was established well as a setting in the first book, but here it plays such a small part that most of the events could have taken place anywhere and it would not have made a difference. A lot of the meaningful things took place elsewhere, such as London or King’s Lynn, and the pace of the plot ensures that nothing is really explored in much detail.

The manner in which it ends definitely suggests there is more to come in this series, especially with several things having been left unresolved. Some elements of the story arc may need to be untangled before it can really move forward, but I will be fascinated to see where it goes next, both in terms of Emmy and her father’s connection to the Order.

Overall, the biggest success here along with the characters is undoubtedly the mystery, with the unpredictability it brings as well as the occasional twist. It is a fun read, but the issue of the pacing is equally a positive and a negative as the plot just becomes very confused by the end despite the fact it never gets boring. As sequels go, this was adequate at best.

I enjoyed reading this book and I could stop trying to guess the allegiance of certain characters, but objectively there were flaws.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

3 thoughts on “Book Review – The Secret Of White Stone Gate by Julia Nobel

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