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Literature / The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School

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You are right to be afraid of the Broken Doll.

The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School is a novel by Kim Newman, and sequel to The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School. It's a homage to the girls' Boarding School adventure stories of the early twentieth century, with a fantasy twist: Drearcliff Grange is a school for girls who are ... unusual.

In Amy Thomsett's second year at Drearcliff, everything changes. Again. The Headmistress decides that the Talented students are not being properly encouraged to use their Abilities to their fullest, and brings in an unexpected new teacher with unconventional methods. Amy encounters the unfairness of the world, and is forced to do some hard thinking about Right and Wrong. And on top of everything else, she's having creepy dreams about being pursued through an old mansion by a Broken Doll...

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The Drearcliff Grange novels are set in the same world as Newman's Diogenes Club series.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Academy of Adventure: Drearcliff Grange School, as one might expect when the school is deliberately gathering in students with supernatural abilities or other forms of weirdness.
  • Academy of Evil: Drearcliff is revealed to have a rival school, Draycott's House of Reform, where all the really nasty girls get sent and apparently encouraged in their wickednesses.
  • Achilles' Heel: Amy calls it the "leaf", after the Achilles-like tale of Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied. A running theme in the book is her spotting what her opponent's "leaf" is, and trying to figure out her own.
  • Actually, I Am Him: While the Remove are waiting for the new teacher to arrive for their first lesson with her, a girl shows up who has customised her school uniform in several non-regulation ways. Speke suggests she should do something about that before the new teacher shows up and she gets in trouble, and the newcomer thanks her and then explains that she is the new teacher.
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  • Alucard: While the girls are discussing Dracula's cloak, Frecks recalls that he went by the name "Count de Ville" in London, and notes that it's a pretty conspicuous alias for someone with an evil plan. She thinks spelling his name backwards would have been much cleverer.
  • Animal Theme Naming: The Moth Club's codenames are all types of moth, as chosen by the lepidoptery enthusiast Amy. Amy's the only one who still uses hers much; she has plans to become a moth-themed superhero under the name of Kentish Glory.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Cloak of Count Dracula, which confers vampiric night vision and Horror Hunger upon its wearer, and drains actual blood from the living if worn over exposed skin. It also leeches the wearer's supernatural abilities if they have any, and keeps a copy for future use. Amy gets a taste of Dracula's night vision and horror hunger — and an aversion to holy symbols — while the next person it battens onto gets those plus Amy's telekinesis.
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  • Badass Normal: Kali has no special powers, but her formidable kick-boxing skills and status as a nascent empress of crime in South Asia warrant her inclusion in the Remove. Bok would be another example, if she didn't spend the entire novel dealing with a crippling leg injury.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Miss Steps demonstrates her sadism by pinning Amy between 'slabs' of telekinetic force, then boasting about how she's used this technique to squeeze live rabbits to death. The appendix of Remove members' Secrets reveal that Thorn and Frost have respectively burned a cat and frozen a dog to death; although the circumstances aren't specified, the two friends have a falling-out over this.
  • Boys Have Cooties: Little shies away from contact with Alfred once he's exposed as a boy, evidently believing that she'll catch "germs" if she touches him.
  • Call-Forward: In stories set later in the timeline, Geoffrey Jeperson is a military officer, Captain Jeperson. In this story, he's captain of the St Cuthbert's school team, and one of his friends refers to him almost invariably as "the Capt".
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: Palgraive's body has been taken over by a Puppeteer Parasite. To most people, she's just that strange girl who smiles all the time; to people without a Weirdness Censor, she's the girl whose mouth is always smiling but whose eyes are screaming.
  • Character Overlap: Several of the characters have previously appeared in the Diogenes Club series. Amy herself has been mentioned a few times in her adult guise as a moth-themed costumed crimefighter, including a cameo in "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch". Fish-girl Janice Marsh, as an adult, is a key character in "The Big Fish" and "Another Fish Story". Miss Borrodale, the science teacher, appears as a schoolgirl in "Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in 'The Case of the French Spy'". Geoffrey Jeperson is the father of Richard Jeperson, one of the main protagonists of the Diogenes series. "Clever Dick" Cleaver from "Clubland Heroes" makes a cameo appearance.
  • Child Prodigy: The Brain-Boxes, a team of child geniuses led by "Clever Dick" Cleaver.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • There are several references to the Splendid Six, the superhero team featured in "Clubland Heroes". Lucinda Tregellis-d'Aulney, the Aviatrix, is a former Drearcliff girl, and her flying ability gets compared to Amy's.
    • A character mentions the stage magician the Great Edmondo, who is a major character in "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch", a story in which Amy makes a cameo.
    • Moria Kratides mentions her mother's encounters with Professor Moriarty and the Opera Ghost Detective Agency, which occurred in The Hound Of The Durbervilles and Angels of Music respectively. Her remark about the Sherlock Scan as an impractical party trick, which she attributes to somebody her mother used to know, was originally made by Moriarty in The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.
    • One of the girls had a picture book published by Uncle Satt, the children's story publisher with murky origins featured in "The Gypsies in the Wood".
  • Dark Horse Victory: The interschool scavenger hunt is widely regarded as a contest between Drearcliff and the rival Academy of Evil, Draycott's. Drearcliff is out for revenge and redemption after Draycott's trounced them by underhanded means at the previous year's contest. The contest is won by the St Cuthbert's team, who nobody had considered any kind of threat because St Custard's usually fields a team of Upper Class Twits who use the scavenger hunt as an excuse for a pub crawl. The Drearcliff team comes a distant second, one point ahead of the Draycott's team.
  • De-Power: Lawrence does this to the Glove by accident, using her dimensional pocket to engulf the Draycott Unusual's incoming punch. Exposure to the Purple strips away the girl's deadly glove, leaving her with an apparently-normal hand in its place. Although stunned and confused, the girl's reaction suggests she'll come to terms with the loss and be content to live as an Ordinary with free use of both hands.
  • A Dick in Name: "Clever Dick" Cleaver. One of his fellow prodigies tells him, "You're not Clever, you're only a Dick."
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Little has been known to get trapped inside rooms after accidentally pulling the doorknob off.
  • Dreaming the Truth: The last of Amy's Broken Doll dreams foreshadows several revelations that come out in the following chapter, which Amy had subconsciously noticed but not consciously put together. In particular, the dream-equivalents of her classmates include two different versions of Paquignet, The Girl With Green Thumbs (the real one) and The Girl Who Grew On A Tree (the imposter).
  • Dream Sequence: Three non-consecutive chapters consist of Broken Doll dreams being experienced by Amy.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Child Prodigy "Clever Dick" Cleaver has trouble with his Rs. It might be cute if he weren't such a jerk.
  • Empathic Healer: "Shrimp" Harper accidentally discovers that she can remove other people's illnesses and injuries as a variation of her "breathing in". She receives the subjective effect of the illness or injury, but not the thing itself, and it fades away over time; when she cures someone's broken arm, she has to wear her own arm in a sling for a few days until it remembers that it's not actually broken.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • Draycott's House of Reform for Drearcliff.
    • Miss Steps, a Draycott's student who has similar telekinetic powers to Amy. After their first confrontation, Amy wonders if they're going to become nemeses.
    • Drearcliff alumna and current superhero Ghost Lantern Girl, whose lantern bestows on her the combined knowledge and abilities of all its previous wielders, has a recurring adversary whose power comes from a cursed artifact that also bestows the abilities of its previous users but in a way that's less symbiotic and more parasitic.
  • Extranormal Prison: The Undertaking are responsible for maintaining one, called the Mausoleum. In the years-later epilogue, Amy and Emma visit it to look in on Moria Kratides.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: Knowles' father writes these for a living. His strict commitment to Rule #2 (no supernatural solutions) is Lampshaded and mocked by the Moth Club, who know they live in a world where a supernatural explanation may be more plausible than the highly-contrived (but not magical) murder techniques in Carleton Knowles' books.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Knowles' collection of true crime books includes works on Jonathan Wild, Eugène François Vidocq, and Colonel Clay. Wild and Vidocq are real people (who each inspired several famous fictional characters), and Clay is a fictional conman created by Grant Allen.
  • Fire/Ice Duo: Frost and Thorn, who have ice and fire powers respectively, and are best friends.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Knowles' father refuses to believe that she or her late mother were born with Unusual mental powers, preferring to think that his wife was secretly studying the languages she could, in fact, learn immediately upon hearing a few phrases spoken.
  • Flight: Amy's main power is a form of telekinesis, which she can use to make objects lighter and heavier, and to move light objects around. She can fly by making herself a light object and then moving herself around.
  • Foregone Conclusion: After getting discouraged about the results of being for justice and fair play in an unjust and unfair world, Amy experiments in the latter half of the novel with ditching her Kentish Glory persona and reinventing herself as a ruthless avenger with a Death's-head hawkmoth motif. Her eventual decision to stick with being Kentish Glory is a foregone conclusion because other stories, including the epilogue chapter of the first novel, have established that adult Amy will still be using the Kentish Glory name.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Some unspecified time between the World Wars.
  • Gentle Giant: Little, the youngest Remove member, is a six-foot-tall First and very sweet-tempered.
  • Get into Jail Free: In the epilogue, the current Broken Doll gets captured by Ghost Lantern Girl and imprisoned in the Mausoleum, but it turns out that she let herself get captured so she could steal certain artifacts also being kept under guard in the Mausoleum.
  • Green Thumb: Fleur Paquignet has an affinity with plants, and can cause them to grow in inhospitable conditions and at unnatural speeds.
  • Knights and Knaves: Miss Gossage poses the puzzle to her class, but neglects to include the "only one question" restraint. Little says that she would find out which was the truth-teller by thumping both of them and asking "Who wants me to do that again?", and the rest of the students agree that this makes as much sense as the answer in the textbook.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: There are several mentions of the secret lair Dr Shade is reputed to have in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. In the years-later epilogue, this trope's down side is exposed, as the agent of a villainous family has evidently stolen a bunch of Shade's trophies from his too-easily-located lair.
  • Liquid Assets: "Shrimp" Harper has the ability to "breathe in" the life force of others, leaving them feeling tired and run-down. In this book, she learns that the ability can also be applied to make her an Empathic Healer, removing a person's illness or injury instead of their life force.
  • Master of Disguise: Alfred Henry Wax can impersonate any real or imaginary person with the aid of a few costume pieces or props and, it's suggested, a Glamour that causes people to overlook any shortcomings in his disguise or his performance. The limitation is that he can never return to a persona he's already done before — and that includes his own real self. The closest he can manage to being himself is to invent a persona that might plausibly be something like himself and impersonate that; he claims that even he doesn't remember what his real face looked like.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Knowles has the power to know vast amounts of information. In one scene, she mentions that her mother's maiden name was "Hall", and toys with the idea of going by "Knowes-Hall".
    • Frost is An Ice Person.
    • A girl named Fleur has Green Thumb powers.
    • Poll Sparks has electrical powers.
    • Alfred Wax is a master of disguise with the ability to mold his appearance and personality. Lampshaded by Amy after she hears about another master of disguise named Clay.
  • The Men in Black: The Undertaking, sinister figures in black suits and dark glasses whose duties include covering up public encounters with the supernatural.
  • Mind over Matter:
    • Amy has a telekinetic ability that lets her cause objects to float (or to become heavier than usual) and to move them about at will.
    • Miss Steps has a similar telekinetic ability; her preferred manifestation for it is to create blocks of solid air which she can move around to bludgeon or crush, or arrange into invisible stairways and walkways that give her Not Quite Flight.
  • Mister Strangenoun: Agents of the Undertaking who appear or are mentioned include Mr Eye, Mr Jay, Miss Oh, Mr Vee, and both Mr and Mrs Arre.
  • Non-Indicative Name:
    • "Frecks" Walmergrave has no freckles. She had Youthful Freckles when she acquired the nickname; by the time Amy met her the freckles are long gone but the nickname remains.
    • Gillian Little is a first-year student who's already over six feet tall and still growing.
  • Not Quite Flight: Miss Steps uses her telekinesis to create blocks of solid air, with various applications including the one she takes her name from: arranging them into invisible staircases and walkways so she can elevate herself and walk around on apparently thin air.
  • One-Gender School: Drearcliff is an all-girls' school, as is its rival, Draycott's House of Reform. St Cuthbert's is an all-boy school. Subverted when it's revealed that Alfie Wax has been impersonating Paquignet since the Game, and when his schoolmate Geoffrey Jeperson joins him as another transfer student from St. Cuthbert's.
  • Organ Autonomy: Speke's spiky, crab-like "hands", although under her control when she's awake, wander around when she sleeps, as if possessed of (animal-grade) minds of their own. Restraining them doesn't work because they can untie knots and pick locks, but give them something sturdy to "play with" during the night - a wooden toy, a puzzle, an old rag to unravel - and they'll stay put to investigate and pick apart the "gift".
  • Photographic Memory: Knowles, known as "Miss Memory", can retain any information in full detail after reading it once, though it fades away after about a month.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: The section of wall over Kali's bed is decorated with photos of American gangsters and the kind of movie actor who plays gangsters. The section of wall over Amy's bed is pictures of costumed crime-fighters she hopes to emulate.
  • Power Incontinence: Harper and Dyall are outcasts because their uncontrollable powers have unpleasant effects on anyone around them. Harper nearly killed her own mother as a baby due to her energy-vampire ability. Dyall's Secret, revealed in an appendix to the novel, is that she does have the ability to suppress her confusion-aura. Ironically, the classmate who receives this information is an Ordinary who barely knows Dyall, so may not grasp its full implications.
  • Prehensile Hair: Sterlyng emulates this trope with her whip-length, hook-laced braid of hair, although it's unclear to what extent she has control over her coiffure-cum-weapon's movement.
  • Psychic Strangle: Amy adds it to her telekinetic repertoire as Death's-head Hawk. She only tries to use it once, on the Broken Doll, which leads directly to her friends talking her down and her realizing she had her feet on a dark path that she doesn't really want to go down.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: One of the students is in a coma while a parasitic maggot in her brain drives her body around.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Outraged and humiliated at having Drearcliff lose the Game to other teams' trickery twice, Headmistress Swan sets aside her previous approach of having upright, honorable teachers set an example for the Remove, and recruits the most notorious rule-breaker in school history as their new instructor.
  • Retractable Appendages: Speke's crab-hand fingers withdraw into her palms rather than risk touching Frecks's coif. Speke herself is surprised, as they'd never done that before.
  • Rubber Man: Devlin can elongate her neck and limbs and twist them as if they lack bones.
  • Sequel Non-Entity: At the end of the first novel, Dora Paule had become friends with Amy and joined the school's staff as a teacher's assistant for the Talented students class. When this novel begins, a couple of terms later, there's a completely new character teaching the Talented students class, and Paule is nowhere to be seen; she is mentioned only once, in a context that gives no hints about what has become of her. It's particularly noticeable because the first book made a point in the epilogue chapter of saying that Paule would still be at the school long after Amy and her agemates left.
  • Series Continuity Error: When Knowles mentions that people with psychic abilities have an increased chance of developing a brain aneurysm, Amy says that so far her powers haven't so much as given her a nosebleed. The first book in the series said that when Amy's telekinesis was first developing, trying to use it gave her a nosebleed more often than not. (Maybe she's just forgotten what it used to be like now that it's fully under her control, or maybe she only got nosebleeds if she tried to force her powers to work before they became reliable.)
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Smurfette Principle:
    • Played with in the case of the Brain-Boxes, "Clever Dick" Cleaver's team of child geniuses, which includes one girl, Gertrude Smarthe, who wears a cute pink version of the team outfit and is looked down on by Cleaver — and also includes Jonathan January, who is counted as one of the boys by the rest of the team but identifies as female and hopes to be accepted into Drearcliff when she's old enough.
    • Inverted in the Remove, post-Game, in that one of the twenty girls turns out to be Alfie Wax in disguise.
  • Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying: As Death's-head Hawk, Amy wears an outfit that's all black except for the death's-head emblem. Actual death's-head hawk moths, as seen for instance on the poster for The Silence of the Lambs, have a brown and yellow coloration not all that much different from the Kentish Glory's color scheme — and Amy, an entomologist herself, has been established to be picky about details like that, so this may be a sign that she's not thinking straight.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Former Drearcliff student Angela De'Ath went on to become an assassin known as the Angel of Death.
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: One of the events of secret history Amy learns is that the Great Fire of London was started by a fire elemental summoned by a mage with a grudge.
  • Strictly Formula: Carleton Knowles' detective novels. The murder victim is always one of two character types (both female), the most helpful, handsome, learned man in the supporting cast always turns out to be the murderer, and it always ends with an elaborate explanation of how the seemingly impossible crime has a non-supernatural explanation.
  • Super Speed: "Light Fingers" Naisbitt's ability.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Jacqueline "Shrimp" Harper has a twin brother named Jacques.
  • There Is Another: An appendix at the end lists all the secrets from Miss Kratides' Secret Game, including the ones not revealed in the main story. The one given to Palgraive's Puppeteer Parasite is that she is not the only one of her kind.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: In one of Amy's Broken Doll nightmares, there is a group of mysterious lordly figures who represent the Unusuals of earlier generations. Dr Shade is represented as "Doktor Schatten", and there are a couple of inverted examples, with Count Dracula appearing as "Count Dragon", and Geneviève Dieudonne as "Jennifer God".
  • Upper-Class Twit: St Cuthbert's has a reputation for turning these out, young men with lots of money and family connections who are assured of getting a cushy position in life regardless of their personal achievements or lack thereof.
  • Vampiric Draining: "Shrimp" Harper has the ability to "breathe in" the life force of others, leaving them feeling tired and run-down.
  • Weirdness Censor: Ordinary people all mentally filter out unbelievable events. They might gather to watch two teams of Differently Powered Individuals duking it out in the street, but no matter how clearly they see it, within a few hours of it all being over they'll have convinced themselves that they imagined the whole thing or that it was really something more mundane.
  • Write Who You Know: In-universe, the detective novelist Carleton Knowles has two frequently recurring types of female character, with every one of his novels containing one or the other. There's a mature, attractive, amusing woman, who is based on his wife, and a clever, pretty, infuriating schoolgirl, who is based on his daughter.

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