Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Learning by E.R. Murray

Sometimes, it takes more than one lifetime to put things right…

After the death of her beloved grandpa, Ebony Smart’s world is turned upside down. Sent to Dublin to live with an aunt she didn’t know existed, she soon discovers that her new home, 23 Mercury Lane, is full of secrets.

Short Review

The Book of Learning is the first book of the Nine Lives Trilogy – a set of books that will blow any young minds away. They have wonderful characters that you can feel jump from the page, set pieces that are magically brought to life and some evil characters that get right under your skin. E.R. Murray has produced a series of books that help to fill the void in a post Harry Potter world – E.R. Murray delivers a delectable tale of mystery, suspense and terror that captivates the mind and imagination of all who fall under her spell.

Books you may also enjoy The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

Long Review

The Book of Learning is the first book of her Nine Lives Trilogy and it’s the perfect start to a franchise that awakens the child in all of us. That’s right, it’s a children’s book, but the themes that run under the current of Murray’s delicious prose are somewhat relevant to all, given the times we are living in and the way in which we all hope for something better, at times the themes she unravels, we hope, we may never have to encounter.

Although the book focuses on Ebony Smart; who is brought to life so brilliantly by Murray that she will be an inspiration to all those inquisitive minds that read this book – a true role model is hard to find in today’s world. I am also sure she will be the inspiration for a great many costumes on ‘World Book Day’. Ebony is a fabulous character that leaps off the page and delves deep into your mind, a character that stays with you long after the book has been finished, you become invested in her and in doing so she becomes more friend than fictional character. The delight of discovering Ebony Smart in The Book of Learning had me reminiscing about Roald Dahls Matilda, in all her brilliance.

Murray deals with a complex idea brilliantly; being able to write in such an engaging way that the reader doesn’t feel lost in the complexities and wonderment of what is unfolding; you are strapped in for the ride of Ebony Smart’s life, and boy is it a ride! The idea of reincarnation is a difficult idea for children and some adults to process; the ins and outs of the whole thing, not to mention the religious and spiritual connotations of all that has gone before; but Murray had me eating out of the palm of her hand as she creatively and masterfully explained the Order of the Nine Lives.

The premise of the story, that being that those who are chosen, live nine lives and have the opportunity to change things, bring about their destiny etc. did remind me slightly of the fabulous book ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ by Claire North (if you haven’t read it – I’d highly recommend you getting a copy). But there are enough differences here to avoid too many comparisons, and in turn; Murray delivers a stand out piece of children’s fiction that lives long in the memory, fabulously fantastical, brilliant set pieces and an imagination that know no bounds and in turn Murray sets the spark that will not be extinguished and which will rage into the next two books of the trilogy.

I have a special place in my heart for children’s fiction and young adult fiction and also love discovering new books by authors I’ve not read previously. Since having children and also reviewing for STORGY Magazine, I have developed a rather large collection of books that will be passed onto them when they are old enough to read and understand the words and worlds created within. And The Book of Learning is no exception and will be joining that pile – it’s a book I can’t wait to give my daughters and see them enjoying…journeying with their new found friend Ebony Smart and entering the world of the Nine Lives and discovering the brilliance of the Book of Learning for themselves.

Not only does Murray do the mystical and magical well she also is able to create the dark and disturbing. Icarus Bean is one of the finest creations I have ever met in a children’s book, he is both scary and menacing; like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on acid and you will be in the ball park. Murray was able to make my skin crawl on various occasions and even at the mention of his name, left me with sense of foreboding.

‘Giving up, she turned and walked to the wardrobe door to retrieve Winston – he always made her feel better. But then a movement at the side of her eye caught her notice and she realised that Winston was actually fast asleep on her bed, his fat tummy rising and falling peacefully. Ebony paused, her hand touching the handle of the wardrobe door.

As a barely audible cough sounded from the wardrobe, a chill crept through Ebony’s bones and her blood ran cold – but it was too late to hide.’

When you thought things couldn’t get any crazier we also discover that Ebony has an eclectic family that she moves in with after the disappearance of both parents and the death of her grandfather what with her overbearing Aunt Ruby, her strange Uncle Cornelius and their family pet / protector  Mulligan you have a family that would rival the Adams Family.

The Book of Learning is the start of what I can only imagine is going to be a fabulous trilogy in children’s fiction, helping to fill the void and provide something new for young readers trying to live in a post Harry Potter world. The mention of Harry Potter is possibly one of the biggest compliments I could give Murray for her work here, she has produced something that is truly magical, deep, detailed and original; her brilliance shines through the pages and is reminiscent of the great J.K. Rowling.

The Book of Learning is published by Mercier Press and is available here.


E.R. Murray


Elizabeth Rose Murray is represented by Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associate London – writes fiction for children and young adults. She lives in West Cork where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of outdoor adventures.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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