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The Blood-and-Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak
By Margaret Mahy
Illustrated by Wendy Smith
J.M. Dent & Sons, 1989

Zaza and Huxley are about to have an unexpected adventure. Having written (Huxley) and gruesomely illustrated (Zaza) one too many blood-and-thunder tales on one too many pristine white walls, the two children are banished to a boarding school -- the Unexpected School, on Hurricane Peak. Hurricane Peak is so named because it has a hurricane eternally circling round it, and the Unexpected School is so named because it was built on Hurricane Peak.

The children arrive at the school to find that the headmistress has run off, the head prefect is a cat, and the deputy principal is just some sorcerer who showed up one day and started teaching classes in magic. They are okay with this.

Meanwhile, evil industrialist Sir Quincy Judd-Sprockett has burgled the lab of Belladonna Doppler, inventor, one too many times. Being a pragmatic and logical scientist, and having no time for nosy police inspectors, she decides to run away. Fortuitously, her cat is pen pals with the head prefect at the Unexpected School, and she has recently learned, much to her distress, that the children are not being properly instructed in science and math. She heads off to the school, stealthily trailed by Sir Quincy Judd-Sprockett, his henchmen, his adopted aunt, and their ice cream van.

There's quite a bit more going on as well -- concerned school inspectors are closing in, a curious postman searches for his true love, and mysterious opossums plague the school. We learn of lost loves, amnesiac administrators, and mistaken identities, and there is enough blood-and-thunder adventure to satisfy any reader.

This is a most wondrous book, packing a fast-passed, complex, and quite silly adventure into a brief 132 pages. It is also worth noting that this includes quite a few illustrations (Wendy Smith is less well known than she should be, but she is comparable to Quentin Blake in style), which are quite pleasing, but makes it all the more impressive how much story takes place in so crowded a space.

As with many of Mahy's stories, the vocabulary and wordplay are both pervasive and prodigious, but may be a stumbling block to uncertain or unmotivated readers. I would expect 10-14 year olds to be mostly likely to enjoy this book, both because of the reading level and because it is at times mildly mushy.