Posted by Jane McMorland Hunter on November 20th, 2021

Every so often I experience love at first sight with a book - Jack Joliffe Goes Forth by Henry Chancellor is one such book. Aimed at 8-12 year-olds, it is a substantial hardback which is always a good sign as one can then lose oneself in a long story. Of course I judge all books by their covers; this has a portrait of Jack who instantly looks interesting in a swashbuckling sort of way. There is also a gothic tower, probably lit by candlelight and probably hiding secrets, a unicorn and a semi-transparent man in tails. The story is set just round the corner from Hatchards at St James’s Palace and on the endpapers there is a map of the palace, which seems to have vaults, a Royal Beast Yard and several towers (apparently the map is unofficial and therefore the palace is probably not as interesting in real life). Inside there are more wonderful illustrations throughout the text; I have to admit I’m firmly with Alice on the matter of pictures and conversation in books.

So far, so good, but what of the story? It is brilliant. Gripping, funny, a little frightening and so good you think you are in Jack’s world. It’s very like ours but with slight differences; there’s an oliphant (yes, that’s right, it’s subtly different to an elephant), a lot of mysterious people, some appalling baddies and a buttercup-eating dragon. I became so engrossed in the story that when I cycled past St James’s Palace on my way to work at Hatchards I actually looked for a white rabbit wearing blue britches and a patchwork jacket.

Jack, as you may or may not have gathered, is a girl. For the first twelve years of her life she lived happily with her two eccentric guardians; her parents had died when she was six months old but she was loved by her guardians and they didn’t have any enemies. Then, suddenly, in chapter two, tragedy strikes. Just before Jack is whisked off to a children’s home the mysterious William Foxglass appears, whisks her away in a strange-looking van and suggests that she comes to live with him at St James’s Palace as Keeper of the Ghosts. Since whatever killed her guardians wanted to kill her as well, Jack realises she doesn’t have much choice in the matter.

Once at the palace she discovers a very unusual school, ancient beasts from the old country, some weird royals and more secrets than you can imagine. Everyone tells Jack she must control her vault of ghosts and not let it control her but it seems that’s one of those things that’s easier said than done. The more she discovers about the palace, the more extraordinary everything seems. Then there is a kidnapping and she begins to discover answers (not necessarily the answers she would have liked) to some of her questions.

As with all the best stories, the mysteries are tidied up at the end and some people get to live happily ever after. I was so sorry to leave Jack’s world but I hope that there might be more adventures for her in the future.