This is the second book in the `Magician's House Quartet' and sees the three children of the previous novel (`The Steps Up The Chimney') return to their uncle Jack's Golden House, where the year before they had meet a time-travelling wizard called Stephen Tyler, befriended a number of wild animals and mastered the magical art of sharing their bodies, and helped deliver their uncle's girlfriend's baby when the wizard's assistant Morden had attempted to sabotage the birth.
The children William, Mary and the youngest Alice are delighted to be back during the short spring break, eager to begin living more of the magic, but are slightly disconcerted to find that nothing out of the ordinary occurs. Just as William begins to doubt the reality of the magic of however, Alice once more joins minds with the dog Spot, who leads her to the Door in the Tree...
In this story, the badger sett of the valley is under attack from badger-baiters - a fact the children learn from their new friend, the elderly woman Meg Lewis, who lived by herself in Four Fields where she has appointed herself a guardian of the wildlife in the area - in particular the badgers. When the children discover a dead badger upon the path that Spot calls `The Dark and Dreadful Path', and find several ominous messages signed `the Fang', they realise that something indeed is amiss within the Golden Valley, and once more it's up to them to restore balance.
`The Door in the Tree' is a step up from its predecessor `The Steps Up the Chimney' - it takes the children further into the woods and grounds of Golden House to discover further beauties -and harsh truths - of the natural world, a pattern that is continued in the next book `The Tunnel Behind the Waterfall' where the children trek even further to find the lake known as Goldenwater. In this second book the children also find new acquaintances - not just Meg, but animals such as Falco the kestrel, Bawson the badger, Merula the blackbird, and re-appearances from Cinnabar the fox and Jasper the owl.
The story is more focussed and to the point - in the previous book suspense is built up only for nothing to happen, but here there are several exciting and interesting occurrences of the children's adventures - especially those that occur during the night. Although disappointingly the door in the tree actually plays a very little part in the story (you never actually learn where it came from), other happenings slowly begin to build up and create tension till the children are once more separated and relying only on their individual talents to resolve the problem. Corlett's descriptions of the children entering the animal's bodies are especially vivid, and his greatest strength is action-sequences (seen used to best effect in the final volume `The Bridge in the Clouds'). Also worth re-reading is the lovely description of Four Fields, Meg's home.
However, as it was in the first book, the magician and his evil assistant Morden have very little to do in the main plot strand of the book. Morden appears only as a lurking threat at the back of their minds, and the magician himself Stephen Tyler arrives without warning to spout ideas of philosophy, alchemy and human nature that young readers may find confusing and are perhaps better suited to books of a higher age group than these are intended.
There is some more information on the history of the house as told from Meg's point of view - its interesting, but a little hard to piece altogether, especially if you can't quite remember little tidbits of history that were first told in the first book. A timeline or family tree would have been appropriate to chronicle the families that lived in the house - the Crawdens, the Tylers, the Mordens, the Lewises and now the Taylors/Greens.
Luckily the children improve - in the first book I could barely stand them due to their quarrelling and rudeness, but here there is a slight improvement on their manners, though Alice still needs a lot of work to make her even remotely likeable - the fuss she makes over Phoebe breastfeeding her baby is vulgar as well poorly written. Parents might not enjoy reading such passages out loud (Alice shrieks out - "Boobs! Boobs! Will's got a thing about boobs!). Like the plot strand of Jack and Phoebe's living together without being married, it is too crudely and awkwardly written to belong in a children's book. Other authors have tackled such subject matter with far more sensitivity than Corlett does here.
All in all, its an enjoyable enough book, a good continuation of the `Steps Up the Chimney', but nothing overly special, with a few moments that unfortunately drag this series down from what it could have been.