Review: The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery

Still reeling from her parents’ divorce, and the accident that lost her her leg, Grace Russell heads to Flambards house with an uncertain future, just as her ancestor Christina did a hundred years before. But waiting for her at Flambards are two potential new friends – cheerful Jamie and troubled Marcus – and a whole family history just waiting to be discovered.

K.M. Peyton’s Flambards series, published in the 60s (apart from a controversial fourth book that came out in 1981), followed a young girl called Christina who’s summoned to live with her grouchy uncle, who cares about horses and hunting, and not at all about his new ward’s wellbeing. While she’s there, however, she befriends the younger of her two cousins, Will, and the stablehand Dick, and comes to love the decrepit old house and its equine inhabitants. The series is set in the early 1900s, and as it goes on, the shadow of World War I begins to loom, but the main focus is always on Christina as she grows up, and learns to navigate life, and love, and the world.

I would not recommend The Key to Flambards to anyone who hasn’t already read the main series. It’s not a sequel, exactly, and its story stands very well on its own, but much of Grace’s (our new heroine) inner monologue is taken up by wondering about Christina’s life, and many of the conversations that she has with side characters (particularly the adult ones) are about the history of Flambards and its inhabitants… all of which would probably be fairly tedious to a reader who isn’t already emotionally invested.

Beyond that, I found it to be a fun read, though lacking in narrative tension. The story centres on, at various times: Grace re-learning how to love the outdoors through horse riding; her concerns about returning to school; Marcus’ troubled relationship with his father; and the struggle to get enough funding for Flambards – now an artists’ retreat, of sorts – to stay open, and not be sold to make room for housing developments. And although none of these storylines take any particularly surprising or dramatic turns (except for Marcus’ story, in places), they all wrap up very satisfyingly. Grace made for an interesting protagonist – struggling (understandably so), but resilient – and her relationships with both Marcus and Jamie (and even the bossy Charlie) developed naturally, and were both very sweet.

Overall: Nostalgia was obviously a huge factor in my enjoyment of this book, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone else who grew up with Flambards (the books or the TV series). To everyone else, I recommend Flambards. With great insistence. 😊

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