If you’re arachnophobic, don’t read this book.
Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge is the first book in the Penelope Tredwell series (also called the Twelve Minutes to Midnight series on Goodreads). Penelope is a thirteen year old orphan who has inherited The Penny Dreadful, a magazine (newspaper?) that she is keeping afloat by writing and publishing tales of dread for her 1899 London audience. Her stories have become so popular that she has to hire an actor to play her pseudonym, Montgomery Flinch, for her adoring fans. Because who would believe that a thirteen year old girl could possibly write such tales of horror?
The chief physician at Bedlam hospital requests Montgomery Flinch’s help in solving a terrible problem. He is sure that someone who understands the macabre as well as Flinch is the only one to help him. At twelve minutes to midnight, all of the insane patients of the hospital rise from their beds and begin scribbling shocking descriptions of wars, famine, titanic ships sinking, mushroom clouds destroying cities, and more. Penelope, sensing new material for her stories, drags the reluctant actor to the hospital, masquerading as his niece. There she begins untangling a web that involves the aristocracy, the British Museum, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, and ultimately the fate of England.
What does all that have to do with spiders? Just trust me on this, m‘kay?
Even though I felt like Edge dumps you right into the center of the story without much in the way of backstory for the situation Penelope finds herself in, I enjoyed the book. Penelope is smart and resourceful, and there are enough scary descriptions to make this enjoyable for kids who like a little fright with their books without being too obvious about it. You can tell that Edge was influenced by Poe and Conan Doyle, and I liked that. Give this book to kids who like mysteries, paranormal, strong heroines, turn-of-the-century England, or scary stories.