117. Spellhorn by Berlie Doherty

Spellhorn by Berlie Doherty. Illustrations by John Lupton (Canada) - (USA)
Essential Modern Classics

Pages: 208 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: June 27, 2010
First Published: 1989 (ESM Edition May 4, 2010)
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
Genre: children, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Night is falling.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: This book is published under the Essential Modern Classics list. This is a list of books chosen by the publisher's UK house and is a collection of outstanding books for children. From looking at the titles I'd say the age range varies anywhere from 8 to 15. Four new titles are to be published in 2010 under the Essential Modern Classics list and I think the authors chosen present a unique collection for North American readers to discover. I intend to be keeping up-to-date with ESM as well as digging into their backlist.

A wonderful fantasy written in the classic style comparable to ancient British folklore, though the author has created her own world from scratch. As part of the Essential Modern Classics series the book starts with an informative paragraph bio. of the author followed by a short essay entitled "Why You'll Love This Book" written by a famous author, in this case Helen Dunmore. Then a quick blurb on just who is Helen Dunmore. This publisher's series also sometimes ends with extra material at the back of the book called "More Than A Story". This book contains that section and is extremely interesting, relevant and a bonus to the book. First there is a long "Author's Note" in which the author describes how she wrote this book with the input of 4 blind children. Then there is a section on the history of the myths of unicorns around the world and finally a Q & A section with Doherty about the book including the question to why she chose the ending she did.

Laura is a blind girl who smells and feels a presence under her bedroom window. She sneaks out at night and finds a unicorn. She climbs upon him and the Wild Ones appear and carry her off into the night. She is told a tale as she is taken to their magical land that Spellhorn has chosen her to be their new Mighty High and only she can truly be their new leader, if she refuses to come Spellhorn will stay with her and the Wild Ones will not be able to return to their home world called the Wilderness. Laura is torn between leaving her family between and the plight of these peoples but when her sight comes back to her, the choice becomes easier.

A beautiful little book! For me the mundane beginning, while well written, lasted a little too long making me wonder why this book was so "essential" but once the Wild Ones enter the scene it reaches a different level. Laura is a girl with many hurdles and decisions to make starting with her own blindness which gradually grew upon her in her toddlerhood. The journey to the Wilderness is full of decisions for her as the path is not easy and she must put her trust in Spellhorn while struggling with her feelings of turning around and going back home. As the new Mighty High she is faced with tough decisions at every turn. Laura is constantly torn between a "heart gladness" and a "heart sadness" which she can't even figure out as the longer she is a Wild One the more she forgets who she used to be. The ending is bittersweet and many may wish it had turned out differently. I was hoping for a different turn of events at the end. This is one of those books that will leave you with a sad feeling that you have finished it, so I suggest you read it slowly and enjoy the Wilderness and the Wild Ones as long as you can. Of course, this book would make a perfect gift for any girl who is into unicorns but I think you can be pretty confident any girl who likes fantasy will love this book. Recommended.


  1. Though I don't think she's ever read anything about unicorns, my daughter does enjoy fantasy so this may be one she'd like. Great review, Nicola!


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