The Silver Child

Style: Good

Attitude: Positive

Cover of The Silver Child

Author: Cliff McNish

Series: Silver Child

Publisher: Orion

Published in: 2003

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Coldharbour, northeast England

Genres:  Fantasy


  • Milo undergoes startling changes, as though some power within his is trying to break out. He runs away towards Coldharbour, seeing every child in the world as a glowing light. But he needs help.
  • Thomas feels compelled to leave his family and come to Coldharbour, where the gangs roam. He is not outwardly different from other children, but he has an interior Beauty -- a life-enhancing force -- which has a role to play in what is to come.
  • Emily and Freda are affectionate twins who scuttle about on all fours, scaring even the gang kids on the Coldharbour rubbish tips. Their role is to know whom to look for, and to help them out.
  • Walter is a giant of a boy, twelve feet tall and five feet wide. He is forever trusting and guarding the others.
  • Helen can hear the thoughts of people and animals. But she has to choose between helping the others in Coldharbour and leaving her Dad, alone since her mother died.


Six children, each endowed with a particular gift, feel called to Coldharbour, rubbish-filled mudflats where ships were once built. Each of them has a role to play when it comes to defending the world against the arrival of a ravenous, world-eating creature, whose oncoming roar only the children can hear. Each of the children has left family and home behind, except Helen who can't bear to leave her widower father alone. Milo, turning as though diseased into a shining statue of a boy, is at the centre of their attention and causes strife among them without meaning to. Finally, his metamorphosis is complete and the six ready themselves for what is to come.


General: This is a book centred around six children and their emotions and interactions, with only a hint of what is to come. Each character is well-drawn and individual, necessarily since there is no plot to speak of. The descriptions and interactions draw you in as you struggle with the first person narrators — Thomas and Helen — to understand the changes the children are going through and their purpose. However at the end of the book you are left feeling that this is the big build up you would have expected in the first chapters of a longer story. Unlike The Doomspell, first of the author's original trilogy, this book does not expect to stand up on its own.

Grotesque Descriptions: At times the descriptions are grotesque and slightly disturbing, although not at all gratuitous: the very appearance of the twins, little girls in dresses with long hair scuttling on all fours, is enough to frighten the hardened gangs in Coldharbour. Walter is not just a large boy or even man, but twelve feet high and five feet wide. Strangest of all, though, is the transformation Milo undergoes from normal boy through apparent decay and even death until he becomes a silver guardian, a watcher against an oncoming horror.

Family: Those who have read the author's Doomspell trilogy will not be at all surprised by the style, combining personal, familial closeness with fantastical and at times bizarre descriptions. We first come across Milo, who is suddenly possessed by a voracious hunger, frightening his mother and younger sister and himself when he comes partly to his senses. The family warmth is clearest in the case of Helen, who of all the children, can't leave her widower father, especially since she knows directly what fears he has for her. The other children have unwillingly left their families behind, drawn by strange compulsion to meet in Coldharbour, living rough for months until they are all together. The twins are like mother figures to the other children, encouraging them, looking after them and, in Walter's case, making clothes.

Life and Death: As Milo's condition worsens, Thomas realises that his own interior Beauty, a sort of life-sustaining force, is being drawn out of him by Milo, and that he is taking on some of Milo's decay in reverse. Working himself up to the conviction that Milo is evil and is trying to kill him and the others, Thomas carries Milo, still weak and leaves him to drown in the river. Exactly what happens after is unclear, except that Milo, now regenerated completely, asks Thomas' forgiveness for the strength he had to draw from him, and it is clear that Milo took from Thomas only what was necessary, bearing most of the pain himself.

Emily and Freda tore out of the darkness. Their faces were terrified. I'd never seen the twins look really scared like this before, and they headed straight for Walter. Without hesitation, he gathered them towards him with one arm. With the other arm he picked Helen up. “T-Tommy! Climb on!” he ordered. There was such command in his voice that I obeyed immediately. Like a petrified little kid I scrambled up his legs and perched on his chest.

With Walter holding us all, we waited.

And something emerged from the darkness.

I say something, because what was it? I'd seen the state of some abandoned-looking kids in Coldharbour, but nothing resembling this horror. Was it a boy? If it was, some of him was falling to pieces. His hands were the worst thing. Parts of them were flaking off as I looked at him. As soon as I saw that nausea shuddered through me. I retched. I had to crouch down to conceal the pain. At the same time my beauty erupted. Like a force of nature. I felt it burst out of me. “What's... happening?” I glanced at Helen, but her eyes were glazed.

Wednesday 18th February 2004