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Fetlocks Hall: The Curse of the Vampire Ponies by Babette Cole is the third in a series of supernatural/magic pony books by the acclaimed author of classic picture books like Mummy Laid an Egg and True Love.

Here Cole branches more into transition fiction with these short, chaptered novels. They are still illustrated in her inimitable style but in black and white line drawings rather than in full colour, and there are considerably less illustrations than her regular picture books offer.

I was curious to read these as my children grew up loving her picture books, particularly the wonderful Dr. Dog. Her sense of humour is wicked and she instinctively seems to get what children are interested in and will be amused by.

I have to confess to being quite disappointed by this book.  I suspect I needed to have read the first book in the series to make full sense of what is going on in terms of the background plot and characters, as Cole doesn’t really make it clear with some form of synopsis.

For short books, the story is rather convoluted and seems to have lots of characters and lots of plot arcs going on, some of which were obviously explained in previous books, and here, the author acts as if you know all these things before reading this adventure.

In itself the adventure of the vampire ponies would be perfectly readable as a one off, were it not for all these extraneous plot lines in the background, which is kind of what makes it frustrating.

I also didn’t warm to the subject. The whole ‘world of magical unicorns’ and flying ponies thing doesn’t really float my boat, and the real technical detail about horses, including using a chapter to explain the rules of polo, and a quiz based on things like your knowledge of laminitis, is really only going to appear to properly horsey girls, not girls who just like ponies a bit.

All in all I found this messy, very uneven and disappointing.

It would appeal only to properly horse mad girls (it is resolutely a girls book, despite having male characters in there), who know real things about real horses, but are horse mad enough to accept magical unicorns and vampire ponies in their reading material as well.

I’d recommend it to children between 7 and 9.  It is not really suitable for younger children if they want to read it themselves as there is quite a bit of technical horsey language in there that the children might struggle with.

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