The Victorian setting is flavored with a magical twist. Only rich people can practice magic because it is expensive and when Rose gets a housemaid job at Mr. Fountain's mansion she's ecstatic. Happy to be chosen out of all the girls at St. Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls, Rose has always dreamed of making an income and being independent. She tries to hide that she has a smidge of magic, thinking she'll get fired if her upper class magical employers discover her secret. When Rose discovers her best friend has disappeared along with other children in town, she decides to use her magic skills to find them. Freddie, Mr. Fountain's apprentice, mentors her on magic as they try to solve the mystery.
Rose is a likable character. She takes action or holds back out of self-preservation when necessary. She doesn't want to acknowledge her magic because she doesn't want to lose her job. She's worked so hard to become independent it is easy to see why she is so cautious. Circumstances force her to reveal her abilities to Freddie and the talking magical cat, Gus. She doesn't want adults to know her abilities from her employers to the other servants who are suspicious and frightened of magic. Her magic frightens her at times too. She denies her magical skills at first and tries to give logical explanations as to why her story came to life in a picture form while she was telling it to Maisie. Her denial turns to acceptance eventually and the slow process of self-realization is one of the character developments I really enjoyed.
I would have liked more of Rose's background and exploration of why magic is in the upper class. The reader is not sure if orphan Rose is of an upper class background or if she is lower class. I hope it is the later for it would be more interesting if the lower class had magic too, but they just do not know how to use it or if it is being suppressed by those in power. Of course, this is a short book and that would have made it denser perhaps losing the interest of the young reader. It is tricky balancing action that moves things along versus slogging through backstory. But I have to mention it because I kept waiting for it to be addressed as I was reading and it never was. Perhaps in the sequels, it will be addressed.
Freddie comes across as a snob who becomes intrigued by Rose and goes out of his way to be her friend when his curiosity gets the better of him. Gus, the talking cat, adds humor and looks out for the two children as they pursue the villains. Freddie's sister, Isabella, is a spoiled brat that is so used to getting her way that it is amazing when the adventure brings out the best in her and her stubbornness is used for the good of others. The differences in what Rose would like to say but knows she can't due to class differences is ripe for discussion. She's good at manipulating the children without getting them in trouble. She also diffused Freddie's jealousy of her powerful magic by her self-denial. She really didn't want it and he couldn't understand her rejection of such a powerful gift and desire to be a servant. The character developments are quite well-done. The end has some violence that might disturb some. The villain has some blood-drinking actions that threaten to kill some children. A good addition for your library.