What is the first children’s book that comes to mind? What book in your childhood did you love beyond compare? Possibly within our lifetime, and especially within us younger generation the response may be Harry Potter, or A Series of Unfortunate Events, and if you were to ask me last week then I would have said one of the two. However, over the weekend something possessed me to pick up off the shelf my most loved, most cherished children’s book; one that will quite possibly never be replaced as my favorite book of all time, and I could not believe that I had left it idle on the shelf for so long. Reading it again after such a long time nearly brought me to tears, as the strong presence of nostalgia was wrapping me up in a great big blanket and warming me up inside. The book I am talking about is called ‘Pure Dead Magic’, the first in a six part series, written by Debi Gliori.
The story starts with a confused nanny entering a castle. The castle sits on the shore of a Scottish loch and is the great, magnificent house to the Strega-Borgia family, a rich, magical Italian family who has an unwanted connection the mafia. The nanny is there to apply for a new job, and finally gets it, after a fright by the children of the Strega-Borgia children, Titus, Pandora and Damp. You soon find out that the reason the family has hired extra help is because the father, Luciano, has been kidnapped by his mafia-boss brother, Lucifer, over a month ago, and while there is a search going on the wayward children need to be kept under control. Thus the story begins, with the children creating hell on earth, the mother frantically looking for her husband while trying to pass her magic exams and the father trapped in an isolated building in a field in Tuscany being terribly tortured by his devilish brother.
If you were to ask me why I love this book so much I would have to give you such a long list that I bet you would not bother sticking around to read it all, so here are my three favorite points. Firstly, the characters, and how well thought out they are. As a twelve year old child reading these books in consecutive order I felt as if I was growing up with the character, the first time I had experienced that since Violet from A Series of Unfortunate events. The series starts and ends within year and a half, and so the children, which were ten and twelve, are edging towards teenager by the end of the last book. Even the baby, Damp, is a well thought out character, and she is written as a normal, innocent child. Compared with Sunny from A Series of Unfortunate Events, who speaking ‘baby’ but is still understood by all her family, Damp has nothing to connect her to her family, to them she is just a two year old with nothing to worry about, a great move, considering as she turns into the most significant character to the plot. The only person who is able to help her is the nanny, Flora, but not because she has any special power that connects her mind to babies but because she has a way with children, and also because she recognizes the same magic I her and Damp, and decided to teach her to use it accordingly. The other children are well thought out too, having their own sub-plots that ultimately connect to the original story line. Pandora is smart, clever and childish often making her the dominant leader in the pack while Titus, despite being older, usually has to be dragged around like a lazy dog on a leash. Apart from this, Titus still feels that because he is a boy he gets to lead the entire operation, but usually fails in doing so. It doesn’t help either that the running story plot stretching the six books is Titus inheriting a warehouse load of money from his mafia boss grandfather.
Even the parents have very distinct personalities. Baci and Luciano are both very interesting adult characters that children can associate with even though they have no experience of what its like to be a parent, and particularly a parent running from the mafia. Signor Luciano suffers a lot: being kidnapped by his brother, running from the mafia, getting arrested and beaten up, getting transferred via the internet only to become a baby at the other end, getting hit on by evil women, getting Baci pregnant or a fourth time and having to protect her while all of he above is happening, you can safely say that Luciano gets all of the bad luck (except the pregnancy thing, but if you were to find out that your new baby would be the son of Satan then maybe you would consider that a negative as well). Baci is unreliable and confused: she’s taking a witch exam and learning magic, she gives birth to Satan’s baby and has to raise and protect him while trying to figure out if it is her baby at all, and she’s constantly getting distracted or drunk or drawn off the beaten track, resulting in her older children having to fend for themselves. In a children’s book, it seems to be uncommon that the parents of the main character are both alive and at fault. From my memory of the Harry Potter books Lily Potter is both dead and perfect (James you could say is one of the two) and so are the dead parents in A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Both of these parents are significant to the story and yet their significance comes from then doing wrong or trying to fix wrong. Their absence is stressed in most situations, and the peril in which they find themselves in is sometimes extremely scary; I remember being terrified when Luciano found himself stuck in a computer room while it was on fire, the fire having been lit by his very own murderous brother, and all the computers were exploding around him and he had to get sucked into the last existing computer in order to get back home. Terrifying.
The second point I would like to make is that I believe the plot to Pure Dead Magic and the five that came afterwards was the best plot to a children’s book that I have ever come across. I have never seen a story that got me so engulfed into the world, and never something as violent and perilous as some of the scenes at the story’s climax. The plot is there’s an inheritance that is on the way to Titus, the money having been saved by his grandfather via doing villainous activities. However, Titus has an uncle called Lucifer Borgia (I cannot express how genius this name is for this character) who wants all the inheritance for himself, and in order to get it he wants to murder the entire Strega-Borgia clan so there’s only him left to inherit it. The first book starts with Luciano being kidnapped and trapped in a villa, which sis slowly getting destroyed. All the while two henchmen are sent to slaughter the children. Without giving anything away, they do succeed as expected, but nothing can prepare you for the trouble that comes there way afterward.
The second and third books consist of Titus learning about his inheritance, Baci getting pregnant and the Strega-Borgia’s moving out because the castle they live in is crumbling at the scenes. These books do lag but have small scenes scattered in them that are essential to the plot.
The fourth book is where it really picks up. The castle is once again being attacked but his time by a secret gang, with handsome Zander leading the operation. Pandora is tricked by Zander’s charm and is used in order to complete he mission. Damp becomes older and grows into her powers, and with the help of Flora she becomes powerful beyond imagining. The fifth book is my personal favorite. This is when a new character comes into it, a character you rarely see in children’s books at all. The book starts with The Devil entering a tavern in the Dark Ages, thus setting up The Devil as one of the major characters. Flash forward to where we are with the Strega-Borgia and Luciano has been arrested, Flora the nanny is in purgatory and the Strega-Borgia children are depressed and lost. Baci has hired a new nanny and retired to her room for the duration of the book, mourning the loss of two very important people while mentally preparing to raise yet another child without the help of either of them. This book really shows why I love the series so much; it is dark, scary, and you can clearly sense that this is the calm before the storm in the final book.
I will try not to give much away for the final book. Baci gives birth to a healthy boy but it is switched at birth with a demon, the real baby being in the hands of one of the devil’s henchmen. Damp, with her magical powers, finds Flora but transports them and Titus and Pandora to hell where they have to fight the devil. Luciano is out of jail, but thinking that his family is dead finds himself in conflict with his brother Lucifer, and is determined to murder him out of vengeance. This book is the best climax and conclusion to a very almost perfect series; bloodshed, death, the devil, magic, murder, and a whopping big inheritance fueling all this rage, the plot to this story rivals any of the major children’s series come blockbusters that are widely celebrated today.
The final point is short and sweet; nostalgia. It was nostalgia that made me pick up the books after so long, and it was nostalgia that made me write this article. I loved reading as a child and still do, and as far as I’m aware I have not been as emotional for better or for worse over any book or series as I have been for this one. It holds a special place in my heart because it was the first series that inspired to me to write, and to this day I am still writing, hoping to be as good as some of those authors I inspire to be amongst. We all have that special book or film that is so precious to us, and Pure Dead Magic is mine.