Ten-year-old orphan Dance Violet might have had a short and troubled history, but it hasn’t dampened her warrior spirit – not in the slightest. And that’s a good thing, because something is rotten in her village, and no one else has the courage to try to put things right. People have been disappearing overnight and the village children are left to fend for themselves under the tyrannical schoolteachers Murk and Misselthwaite. There are whispers that the trouble started ten years ago when a beautiful but wicked woman – ‘the golden-haired hellion’ – appeared at a wedding.
Dance has some powerful gifts that she’s only just beginning to discover, and while she knows it’s dangerous to ask questions, she’s determined to find this golden-haired hellion – even if it means disappearing. Author Fleur Beale really needs no introduction to most, the award-winning writer has published more than 40 books in New Zealand. Once Upon A Wickedness is beautifully crafted, with powerful characters and world. Beale weaves in important lessons, including the power of positive thinking, friendship and compassion. Illustrator Lily Uivel adds to the magic, with whimsical and detailed artwork throughout.
The book is aimed at middle primary school, but Beale's rich vocabulary may cause some younger readers to stumble a bit. Having said that, the meaning can be derived from the context and the language is not out of place in the world Dance exists in. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for caregivers or teachers, too.
Once Upon a Wickedness is an exciting adventure novel for younger readers, with a magical fairytale setting, strong heroine and powerful messages. Beale is bound to captivate another generation of fans with this latest offering.
Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell