The Ghosts of Austwick Manor by Reby Edmond MacDonald

The Ghosts of Austwick Manor - Reby Edmond MacDonald

 

Ghost Stories Square: A family inherits a haunted dollhouse that warns of a curse and allows the children to travel back in time

 

(Transfigured from 'Locked Room Mystery')

 

Hillary and Heather MacDonald are a little put out when an English 'barrister' visits their home in Vancouver to inform their brother Donald that he is the heir of the MacDonald family treasures. There isn't much left, the house and wealth were consumed by taxes long ago, but along with old account books dating back to 1540 and an ancestor portrait, there is a 16th century doll house complete with dolls and furniture. It is a model of the central wing of the family estate. A letter warns the MacDonalds (and stepfather) to leave the dolls alone, but the family puts them in the rooms - including a shabbily dressed man who appears to belong in the dungeon.

 

The girls, sitting beside the doll house late one night with a snack, discover that the house can transport them through time and they learn many things about the past and about a curse that afflicts their family. Every second generation the MacDonald heir and his firstborn son die tragically. The girls' father died in a car accident a few years before - does that mean their brother is next?

 

Nerd alert: A doll house such as the one described here - and pictured on the cover - didn't exist in 1540. The earliest doll houses were rooms set into cabinets and the earliest of those were decades later. I would love to play with one, though. I saw a few early ones at the V&A Childhood Museum and couldn't get enough.

 

When I was young I briefly had a fantasy about being the heir to some cool knickknacks, but I realized I was the second son of a third son of a second son and primogeniture wouldn't let me have anything without some kind of bloodbath. So, wish retracted.

 

This was a decent time-travel fantasy. It doesn't adhere to many rules of the genre, but it was fun to have the children run amok in time in their pajamas. The children come to be viewed as ghosts by the family because of their abrupt appearances and departures over 200 years. The deadly curse seemed bad enough on the surface, but there was some other grim stuff packed in here - especially at the end. The author also really stressed the unromantic side of the past. Except for serving a cockatrice at a feast (made of a rabbit stuffed into a chicken ornamented with a gilded head and with wings stuck in). That is all kinds of delightful. This is a nice addition to the haunted doll house genre.