It is nearly a year since Tom Christmas disappeared without trace on Christmas Day, leaving his son, the eponymous Billy, with an increasingly reclusive mother, and the non-stop taunts of his classmates ringing in his ears. Twelve days before Christmas, Billy acquires a strange Christmas tree complete with 12 magical decorations. As the origins of the tree and the purpose of the decorations are revealed, Billy must struggle against an ancient evil that threatens his family, his best friend Katharine and his hometown.
‘Billy Christmas’, the first novel from Oxford-based author Mark A Pritchard, is a strong, confident debut. The action rattles on at a good pace, as Billy’s Herculean labours become increasingly difficult and dangerous. The characters are well drawn, as is the book’s setting, with the town of Marlow recreated in loving detail by the author. In fact, it is this strong setting that grounds the story, providing a solid base as the more magical and mystical elements gradually creep into the narrative. The transition from the book’s realistic, down-to earth opening to something altogether more mysterious is handled extremely well, the strong, likeable main character carrying the reader effortlessly along.
The book is aimed at older children (12+). While it may appeal to some younger children, parents should be aware that there are a couple of scary scenes and an element of (ewww… gross) stuttering, tentative romance.
All in all, ‘Billy Christmas’ is an exciting, engaging story that has the reader rooting for Billy throughout his struggles – magical and mundane – from start to finish. This is a book that is, if you’ll forgive the cliché, definitely not just for Christmas.