The Whispers in the Walls is the second instalment of Sophie Cleverly’s Scarlet & Ivy series, set in 1935 within the forbidding walls of Rookwood; a boarding school for girls. Clever but reserved Ivy Grey – protagonist of The Lost Twin – is back and I couldn’t be happier to read her voice again, but this time her more vociferous twin Scarlet is firmly in tow, with her own point of view chapters and distinctive presence on the page.
For those of you who have not read The Lost Twin and are in the mood for a tightly-written, good old fashioned boarding-school gothic mystery (I rated it 5 stars out of 5 on Goodreads), I highly recommend that you do so before you a) pick up The Whispers in the Walls and b) continue reading this review. The book is middle-grade reading-level and aimed at children aged 8-12.
The basic premise of The Whispers In The Walls is that in spite of events that occurred in The Lost Twin, Scarlet and Ivy Grey are forced by their gutless father and manipulative stepmother to return to Rookwood, only to discover that Miss Fox’s reign of terror is not yet over. Instead it is to continue – and worse – under the iron rod of Headmaster Bartholomew, whose eyes are fixed firmly on troublemaking Scarlet following a spate of thefts. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following her stint in the asylum and determined to regain Ivy’s trust, Scarlet sets out to prove her innocence, which leads to a startling and sinister discovery hidden deep within Rookwood’s walls.
The major development between the first book and this one is that the story is no longer narrated solely by Ivy. The twins alternate first-person point of view chapters with their names at the top of each one, which I must confess I didn’t like as much. Even via the diary entries in The Lost Twin, one got a sense of Scarlet’s domineering, obstinate nature. Now that she has been given free reign in The Whispers In The Walls, she rather overshadows Ivy. I thought that this was a shame, especially since Ivy coming into her own was such an important theme in The Lost Twin. Also, because the twins are often occupying the same space, talking with the same people and doing similar things, I sometimes got confused as to which twin’s point of view I was actually reading at the time, and often had to go back and check. I couldn’t help but wonder if the story could not have been told just as well, if not better, had the author just stuck with one twin’s point of view. That being said, Scarlet is a great character; her selfish bullheadedness, particularly where poor Ivy is concerned, is in equal parts endearing as it is frustrating. A part of me really does wish that we had learned more about what she endured at the asylum via some form of exposition scene with Ivy, but then I suppose Sophie Cleverly is limited to what she can include in a children’s book. In terms of other ‘new’ characters we are not introduced to many (Vile Violet indirectly featured in The Lost Twin via Scarlet’s diary entries). I was very fond of the distractible librarian Catastrophe Jones however, and hope she crops up again in the next book.
Like The Lost Twin, mystery fogs the pages, and I found myself not being able to entirely predict for a moment what was going to happen next. Here I think is where Sophie Cleverly excels. She’s very good at throwing out red herrings and directing your suspicions elsewhere, and even if you do kind of half-guess the outcome, there’s always something else waiting in the wings to take you by surprise. The ending in particular was a bit of a curveball and promises further intrigue in the next book, however it was a bit of a shame that The Whispers In The Walls story felt unresolved as a result of this cliffhanger.
There were also a couple of moments in here that stretched the realms of believability beyond what I was prepared to accept – such as a teacher beating a student enough to break her arm without incurring some form of formal investigation, or students wandering around the school in the middle of the night amidst a draconian crackdown without bumping into a single patrol. The fact that Headmaster Bartholomew was also able to continue Miss Fox’s deception successfully – that Scarlet never left Rookwood – was a bit much. Miss Fox’s deception was contained between only herself and Ivy, whilst Headmaster Bartholomew’s deception relies not only upon several members of staff but also several of the students to play along. I feel like everyone went along with this a little too quietly, especially Scarlet and Ivy themselves, who did not even have the motivation to remain at Rookwood. There were a few incidents like this throughout the book that took me out of the story a little bit, meaning that I did not immerse myself in it quite as much as I would have liked to.
All in all, as is probably evident by my constant comparisons, I did not enjoy The Whispers In The Walls anywhere near as much as I did The Lost Twin. I suspect this might be because nothing much has really changed aside from the introduction of Scarlet’s narrative voice, which, as I mentioned above, I’m not sure really worked. I don’t think anything new was tried here, and some of the things that I really love about the Scarlet & Ivy series – such as the resourceful, intelligent characters, playground politics, the ballet studio, untrustworthy and inept adults and the nostalgic boarding-school atmosphere – were executed better in the The Lost Twin than they were here. However, I am still very much looking forward to the release of the third book in the series, The Dance In The Dark, and I still like Scarlet, Ivy and Sophie Cleverly’s crisp, pacy writing style very much indeed.
For more information about Sophie Cleverly and the Scarlet & Ivy series, please visit her official website here:
Sophie also runs a music blog centred around my favourite genre, Symphonic Metal: