The Starspun Web

Written by Sinéad O'Hart
Review by Fiona Alison

Tess de Sousa is no ordinary girl! Left as an infant on the steps of Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings, she becomes a talented scientist as she matures. At age 12, Miss Ackerbee gives Tess the things that were left with her on the step—some unrecognizable money and a small metal object— along with her own supposition that Tess is not of this world. Enter Mr. Cleat, who clearly does not have Tess’s best interests in mind and who, against Miss Ackerbee’s wishes, takes her to his large house and tries to bribe her with the laboratory of her dreams. But Tess spends most of her alone time studying the unusual device in her possession. Accompanied always by her pet tarantula, Violet, Tess is finally able to bring the “Starspinner” to life. As she learns to wield its power, she is able to move between realities and back again, Violet being her tether to her own world. Using this knowledge, Mr. Cleat takes the precious spider hostage to force Tess to use the Starspinner for his own dastardly plan.

Set in dual 1941s, the story surmises that all realities exist simultaneously on different planes and that world-changing events such as the Spanish Flu and the Great War cause things to go off kilter (mostly unnoticed, unless one happens to be looking). The novel ticks all the right middle-grade boxes: It’s quirky, supernatural, scary, exciting, a fantasy with a bit of history thrown in for good measure. Tess is feisty and brave, and the faithful, klutzy Wilf, the kick-ass hockey twins Prissy and Prossy, the brave maid, Millie, and the indomitable Miss Ackerbee add lots of narrative colour, along with the archetypal “baddies” of course! This novel is sure to excite the imaginations of 8-12-year-olds.