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An air of dread hangs over the remote valley in Wales where step-siblings Alison and Roger are spending the summer. Something is scratching around in the attic above Alison’s room – but when she and Roger, along with the caretaker’s son, Gwyn, go to investigate, they find only a grimy stack of old plates decorated with intricate flowery patterns. Compelled to trace the patterns onto paper, Alison discovers that they can be fitted together to create owls…owls that disappear when no one is watching.

With each vanished owl, events in the valley get stranger and stranger. As the teens uncover the mystery behind the owl service, they become trapped within a terrifying local legend. Dark forces from the past are reignited, forcing them to reenact a tragic love story – a story that has repeated itself for generations and has always ended in disaster.

This is a haunting tale based on an obscure Welsh legend. It’s a suspenseful fantasy, and the teens have to deal with otherworldly magic as well as the real-world issues of class divide and their own adolescent angst. There are some eerie moments, such as the owls sliding in and out of rooms and Roger looking back at his photos. The overall atmosphere is dark and foreboding. You get the sense that something sinister is going to happen, and soon.

Not a word is wasted in the storytelling, which builds into an unexpected but symbolic conclusion. Younger readers today may find the language a bit dated, but it’s worth investing the time to get caught up in the story. The events more than speak for themselves. The Owl Service is an unforgettable classic.

4 out of 5 stars – excellent