The Midnight Guardians

Ross Montgomery

Walker Books – Published 5th November 2020

‘Sometimes at the darkest hour, hope shines the brightest’

This is such a special book, definitely one of my most favourites I have read this year. I finished reading The Midnight Guardians last weekend and it’s had such an effect on me, I’ve kept finding myself thinking about the story and the characters. It’s the most magical of adventures that completely and utterly moved me. There is the perfect balance of humour, heart and historical detail woven into this wonderful World War 2 story.

It’s December 22nd 1940 and Britain is engaged in War with Germany. Evacuee, 12 year old Col is looking forward to his older sister Rose joining him in the countryside at his Aunt Claire’s for Christmas. However, at the final hour a letter arrives and it would seem Rose is staying in London to continue her duties as a dispatch rider. Since their mother left when Col was very small and their father died recently in an incident in the Blitz, Rose is all Col has. With his hopes dashed and emotions running high, Col begins to hear voices…voices in his head getting stronger and stronger, calling him away.

Col runs away into the storm and boards a train, following the voices to his childhood home – a cottage in a bleak valley called Darkwell End. Here, he is reunited with his so-called Guardians – his imaginary friends and childhood protectors. The ones he used to turn to whenever he was scared.

Here are introduced to Pendlebury, a brave and noble tiger who can change her size at will. Mr Noakes, a kind, old badger – a fatherly figure – with an amazing sense of smell and handy with a club. And finally, The King of Rogues, a gallant (but pedantic!) miniature knight so courageous he could fight off a hundred dragons at once.

The Guardians have terrible news. They show Col a vision, a horrifying vision of London burning to the ground. There is to be a devastating air raid on London- the worst yet – on the night of the next new moon. His sister Rose won’t stand a chance riding through the Blitz. Col learns that the Nazis aren’t the only dangerous force at work. The lines between our world and the spirit world have become blurred and the malevolent Midwinter King is determined to bring an eternal darkness over everything.

Col and his Guardians must race against time to save Rose. Riding on Pendlebury’s back we are swept away through the night sky, over the rolling countryside. Our brave explorers must find the Green Man who can restore the spirit world’s natural balance before the King of Darkness cuts him from existence, otherwise the world will be frozen in a winter that never ends. It seems the odds are stacked against them…

I totally fell in love with the Guardians and I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite. I love them all so much and their individual special qualities which we come to learn cleverly mirror those of individuals close to Col in the real world. And the squabbling…oh the squabbling between them is glorious! (Usually between Mr Noakes and the King of Rogues with Pendlebury as referee) Insults fly amidst mud-slinging and slap-stick comedy set-tos that bring light-hearted breaks in the plot.

You cannot fail however to be moved by this story. I had the biggest lump in my throat throughout the final few chapters – the messages of love, letting go, protection and hope that build throughout the adventure really come to a peak and I had to have a good cry to release the emotion. I don’t think I would be able to hold myself together reading this to a class and I’m sure the children would be equally touched too.

We encounter such a wonderful cast of characters on this magical journey. From hapless giants Gog and Magog, to the ugliest fairies you’ve ever seen – and you can’t not love an enchanted tree called Barry can you…or Kevin! And of course, let’s not forget the terrifying Midwinter King and his army of savage dogs lead by Barghest, an old acquaintance of Pendlebury. Ruth is an exceptional character who becomes central to the story. I don’t want to say too much about her so as not to spoil the plot, but she brings stubbornness, determination and bravery to the quest and a much-needed match for The King of Rogues!

Montgomery has made every endeavour to make Col’s story as close as possible to what really happened during the Second World War. The newspaper articles that appear between chapters are all based on real newspapers and Government information leaflets from the time. Reading the excerpt from King George VI 1940 Christmas Day Radio Broadcast gave me goose-bumps as his words then are so pertinent to the situation we currently find ourselves in now.

The level of accuracy of the historical detail included makes this an ideal book for children learning about the time. From blackout procedures to descriptions of air raid shelters in the London Underground Montgomery has it covered – I think I’ll pass on the Mock Banana though!

‘A little light drives out much darkness’

With our thoughts turning to Remembrance Day this could not be a more fitting read. Within this wonderful children’s story are harsh reminders for all of us about the horrors of war, hatred, persecution and discrimination. In the words of Ross Montgomery,

“These are not just stories: these are things that really happened and that can never be allowed to happen again. We must recognise darkness in all it’s forms in order to stand against it. Take your candle and hold it high.”

We must try to be the light. Lest We Forget.

The Midnight Guardians publishes this Thursday 5th November – I pre-ordered a copy from my local Waterstones as I just could not wait to read it.

The Midnight Guardians is deservedly the Waterstones Book of the Month for November. To purchase a copy click here

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