Meet Alice Parker – the very likeable heroine of a new fantasy series for children. She’s part of a family who are both quirky and reassuringly normal – her paramedic dad, her cake-baking granny, a secretive granddad, a mum who’s experimenting with veggie recipes and an older brother, Thomas, who’s moody university student. Alice herself is a pleasingly non-girly girl who hates clothes, makeup and romantic books, and likes food so much her brother nicknames her the ‘wiglet’ (short for ‘wicked piglet’). Her idea of heaven is meeting her best friend Susan for a chocolate-fudge cake at ‘The Coffee Cauldron’.
Things begin to get curious for Alice though – she’s finding it hard to sleep and her back feels constantly hot and itchy. Her hunger’s getting out of control, particularly for fruit and sugar – she’s knocking back a whole carton of pineapple juice at breakfast and even steals a banana from a still-life she’s supposed to be painting in art class. What’s the feathery shape she keeps seeing by her window? Why does the woman in ‘The Coffee Cauldron’ say she’s special? And why does she keep getting a 100% on all her exams? It only seems to give the gang of unpleasant girls she nicknames the ‘coven’, led by horsey Lucinda Rowbottom (or No-Bottom), another reason to hate her.
It turns out Alice Parker is undergoing a metamorphosis, and will soon emerge like a butterfly from her chrysalis as a Finwip – or a ‘fully intergrated winged person.’ This runs in her family – Thomas and her granddad are Finwips too – and explains why she’s been mainlining the sweets and orange juice (nectar is needed to produce her butterfly-like wings). Finwips have learnt to live in the human world, but still meet occasionally in villages underground for mutual support. And yes, some of them are small and have pointy ears, but don’t call them fairies okay? (Well, not Alice’s granddad anyway, he doesn’t like it!)
The plot, when it does emerge, is pretty simple – Alice is asked to complete a task for the Finwips, which she does without any real surprises or jeopardy occurring. It means facing up to some bad winged people called the Sinwips, who have potential, but in this book feel a bit under-developed. For this reason I’d say that despite Alice herself being 13, this is probably aimed more at 7-10 year olds – for Harry-Potter junkies the story might seem a bit slight. Still, Nicola Palmer has modernized the idea of fairies with real charm, and I like Alice a lot – the best scenes emerge from her dealing with being a fairy in the real world, whether that’s struggling with her wings in the school loos or finding she and Susan don’t have a mobile signal at a moment of crisis. The world Palmer has created is full of possibilities, and with more Alice Parker adventures to come, I can see the series might transform into something lovely.
Reviewed by Evie Glass
Available in Kindle format and also as paperback
Find out more about Nicola Palmer