BfK 10–14 Middle/Secondary continued The Cabinet of Curiosities HH
Paul Dowswell, Bloomsbury, 288pp, 978 1 4088 0046 1, £10.99 hbk
Like the title this story is a curiosity. The historical backdrop is not one instantly familiar to most young people, being that of Prague in 1598, the seat of Rudolph, the Holy Roman Emperor. Rudolph collects curiosities in a museum which becomes a source of fascination for Lukas, nephew to the curator of the cabinet and court physician, Anselmus, to whom he has become apprenticed. Lukas has travelled from the Low Countries after his father had been put to death by the Inquisition. On the road he met Etienne who led him astray somewhat. Lukas finds life in the Emperor’s Palace dull and boring and through Etienne falls into bad company. He is also used by Celestina, daughter of Dorantes, the envoy of the Spanish King, who is trying to stop the Emperor’s relaxed attitude to the practice of religion. Rudolph is eccentric and suffers from depression and the envoy sees a way to kill him using Rudolph’s interest in curiosities. Having been caught stealing from the museum and sent packing, Lukas is given a way to re- instate his apprenticeship and regain his uncle’s trust.
This is a portrait of a boy, bitter at his father’s treatment, who has lost his way and seems to be easily led. The unfamiliar historical background is not explained enough for the reader to become engaged with the background to the story. In the notes at the back Paul Dowswell does explain which bits of the background are real and those that are not, but more setting of the background within the text would have made the reader’s job easier. Some of the unpronounceable names do not help. The reader can feel sympathy for an orphaned boy in an unfamiliar city lodging with an old man, but not perhaps for how easily Etienne leads him so quickly into the path of robbery and deceit on the road to Prague. Would a boy whose father obviously had strong moral feelings himself go astray so easily I wonder? The publicity talks of a ‘fantastical adventure set against the backdrop of Ancient Bohemia’, but the attempts of the Spanish to oust Rudolph from his throne are not that fantastical, given his lax rule. The adventure itself is quite credible if not rooted in historical fact and makes for an exciting end to the story, if the reader gets that far.
The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight
Jenny Valentine, HarperCollins, 288pp, 978 0 00 728361 3, £5.99 pbk
This author can always be relied upon for originality and fine writing, and any new work arouses the highest expectations. But in this novel she
has lumbered herself with a plot so rigid and all-pervasive that it gobbles up energy that could otherwise have gone into characterisation or even the odd, welcome sub-plot. A disturbed teenager, writing in the first person, who decides to pass himself off as another family’s missing child is not a bad idea in itself, but in these pages the guilt, shame and fear he experiences is re-visited so often it ends up by becoming a bit of a bore. For readers hanging on to the end there is a good climax involving that trusty old figure from horror films, a Wicker Man. But the charm typical of Valentine’s earlier novels is replaced here by something heavier and more unwieldy, with few light passages to offset the general gloom plus a general straining for effect that ultimately becomes self-defeating.
only be broken by fire, storm, flood and blood respectively. One gate has already been breached and Witch Breed char ts the destruction of a fur ther two, paving the way for a grand finale in the next – and final – book.
This time-slip novel moves between the London of the mid-17th century and the present and, although the setting and characters have veracity the dialogue does not always ring true: on several occasions the modern colloquialisms of Paul’s speech jar. The story centres on Grace Fletcher, mother of Susanna and her ordeal when she is condemned as a witch. Both she and her daughter have supernatural powers but these are used for the good – to defeat Lud’s minions. Gibbons writes well about the suspicion and murderous hysteria generated in communities who live in a world which they do not fully understand.
Pam Bachorz, Egmont, 304pp, 0 978 1 4052 5027 6, £6.99 pbk
Candor is a model community – protector of society’s highest standards, solver of family problems, trouble-free. Like all things which seem too good to be true, Candor is built on a lie – one in which brainwashing messages are used to control thought and behaviour, eradicating independence and individual personalities – a sinister conformity.
Cherry Crush HHHH
Cathy Cassidy, ill. Sara Flavell, Puffin, 304pp, 978 0 14 138479 5, £10.99 hbk
14-year-old Cherry and her dad move to the other end of the country to live with his new girlfriend and her four daughters. Welcomed into their creative, confident family, Cherr y begins to understand herself and her past, and that her habit of embroidering the truth does nothing but harm in the end. Her difficulties with the eldest sister, only sixth months older than herself and also finding it hard to relate to this new situation, add a further dimension to the story, the first in a series (‘The Chocolate Box Girls’) which will reflect the stories of each girl in turn.
Think Jacqueline Wilson without the angst; Hilar y Mackay without the verve – this is highly readable, safe stuff, dealing with an all too common scenario, the realities tempering the romance of the situation. A tiny taste of boyfriend trouble excites interest, but is kept very low-key – this is much more a story of the developing self than of real boy-girl relationships. AG
Oscar Banks’ father founded the town to paper over the cracks in his own life, his inability to help his wife come to terms with the death of their eldest son, his grief and anger at her departure. No-one leaves Candor now, no ripples disturb the smooth millponds which pass for lives.
Oscar has managed to remain intact by developing counter-messages to protect his thought-processes and he exploits his discovery by providing escape routes – at a very high price – for those who want to leave before it is too late. His plans are sabotaged when he falls in love with a rebellious new arrival, Nia Silva, and cannot bear to see her personality destroyed by his father’s programming. The ending of the book, when Oscar sacrifices himself to give Nia her freedom, is a poignant and powerful reminder of the price we must pay for conformity at all costs. Bachorz presents the reader with extremes, as only then can we see the shocking implications of what we might have thought we wanted society to be.
VR Witch Breed HHH
Alan Gibbons, Orion, 320pp, 0 978 1 84255 780 8, £7.99 hbk
This is the four th book in the ‘Hell’s Underground’ series and it continues the story of Paul Rector’s struggle to prevent the ancient king Lud, imprisoned under the streets of London, from escaping and controlling the world with his demons. Lud is constrained by four gates which can
30 Books for Keeps No.185 November 2010
The story whirls along, with a good deal of bloody combat and a constant stream of action, occasionally interspersed with Grace’s reflections on her imprisonment and Paul’s anguish at having to leave behind the woman he loves in order to walk the inevitably lonely path of the champion of goodness. Yet even his character is compromised – he must find a balance between the demon within whose strengths he needs in his fight and his humanity, which he is fear ful of losing.
This is far from an action-driven gore- fest but there is repetition in the more bloodthirsty scenes and in the construct of the narrative which will appeal to an uncritical reader but which may disappoint those looking for a more thought-provoking debate about good and evil.
Wishful Thinking HHHH
Ali Sparkes, Oxford, 336pp, 978 0 19 275611 4, £5.99 pbk
It is truly refreshing to find a children’s novel, set in contemporary England, which features the lesser- known gods of Roman and Celtic Britain as central characters. There are human protagonists too, of course: Kevin, the adolescent whose wishful thinking in the vicinity of the River Ouse awakens Abandinus, its
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