Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, the first in The Network Series by Katie Cross, feels like a book that would have happened if Hermoine Grainger from Harry Potter had been painfully cursed as a child and lived her whole life in a witch community. But oh, is Miss Mabel’s School for Girls so much darker. Bianca Monroe has lived under an ancestral curse since her birth. During a coup, her grandmother was cursed and the ill health passes on for three generations. In Bianca’s particular generation, she will die on her 17th birthday if the curse is not undone. Secretly trained her entire childhood, Bianca enters Miss Mabel’s School for Girls not to complete her training as a Network Witch, but to force Miss Mabel to break the curse on her family. While all students are welcome to enter a competition to become Miss Mabel’s next trainee, third year students are usually the only ones brave enough to volunteer. Bianca causes a great stir when she volunteers as a first year. She must lay the groundwork to help save her family and herself in the process.
Miss Mabel’s School for Girls starts off slowly simmering, but quickly picks up speed and nuances. While Harry Potter spent the first book showing the wonders of life in a magical world, Katie Cross intentionally shows the wickedness and dangers of a world where magic and civil unrest are commonplace. Her rich characters are more akin to the likes of high school and seem strangely familiar. Bianca has two friends she forms early on, but even finds herself not trusting them as she goes along. She has the familiar mean girls to contend with, as well as teachers that may or may not have her best interest at heart. The book has a distinct style that seems to flow from a rich heritage of Southern Horror.
What I loved about Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is that Bianca is not the perfect teen witch born to challenge a great oppressor. She fights because she absolutely has to, but for so much of the book she is forcing herself to get through each challenge. Instead of merely being a natural, Bianca has trained and struggled from birth to prepare for her fights with Miss Mabel, and even then she is not always prepared. While she thinks quickly and is able to get some help from her friends, there are times where Bianca seems to be completely on her own.
I devoured Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and desperately want more. The intricate nature of the Network world screams for multiple follow up books and I want every one of them.