Spellbinder - Helen Stringer
Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. This ability comes in handy after her parents die in a car accident; Belladonna is able to live with them at home as if nothing ever happened. However, when all the ghosts in the world disappear, Belladonna and her friend Steve must journey into the Land of the Dead to find out why, or she may risk losing her parents forever.

Spellbinder by Helen Stringer is a children's fantasy novel very reminiscent of the Harry Potter series, in a good way. As in JK Rowling's novels, Spellbinder is all about discovering magic hidden behind ordinary objects and places. An old stage prop may conceal the entrance to the afterlife, and a cheap arcade prize may turn out to be a powerful artifact.

Belladonna, the protagonist, and her friends come off as very believable twelve year olds. It may seem frustrating to older readers when Belladonna and Steve take matters into their own hands to investigate the missing ghosts; however, as in many a children's fantasy novel, the adults are too preoccupied to listen to the young characters or provide any answers. Belladonna is also a bit too trusting and naive in earlier chapters, but she becomes increasingly aware of the dangers she faces in later chapters.

Stringer's prose is very descriptive, and it is very easy for the reader to picture Belladonna's home village, sprawling old school building, and the decay seen in the land of the dead. Unfortunately, the author seems to have introduced too many stray elements and plot threads than are actually resolved in the novel. However, the main story comes to an overall satisfying conclusion, and the final chapter indicates a forthcoming series where these questions will hopefully be answered.

Spellbinder looks like a great start to a new fantasy series that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.