dangerously obliging deity; his nan, who is helping him endure the breakdown of his parents’ marriage; Greg, a professor of mythology, with strange and secret sorrows in his past, who helps to elucidate the nature of the pantheon that emerges around Kevin’s struggles with his family, friends and enemies. The irruption of capricious pagan forces into the lives of young people enmeshed in sundry forms of mundane 21st-century strife and desire is made oddly feasible by Sparkes’ exuberant storytelling. As Kevin and his fellow disciples try to recruit the Old Gods into fulfilling their materialistic and romantic fantasies, the tragic, farcical and mythical possibilities are exploited to the full, all of them combining in a climactic car-chase in which the chthonic and the comic collide. This is a splendidly eventful read, with welcome collateral possibilities for learning some obscure and enchanting history. GH
I Shall Wear Midnight HHHH
Terry Pratchett, ill. Paul Kidby, Doubleday, 352pp, 978 0 385 61107 7, £18.99 hbk
Working as a witch for the people of the Chalk can be fairly humdrum for Tiffany Aching, appearing here in her fourth Discworld adventure, more health visitor than magician. Every now and then, however – and this is such a time – more is called for. Folk are becoming disenchanted, hostile even, towards witches in general; they are being corrupted by the evil machinations of The Cunning Man. This novel records Tiffany’s struggle and final confrontation with her dark enemy.
For Discworld fans, much of the fun of a new Pratchett must lie in the reappearance of old acquaintances; one of the most influential figures here has not been around for more than 30 titles. But the Nac Mac Feegles, the kilted and boozy mini-warriors led by Rob Anybody, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Tiffany’s sometime sort-of romantic interest Roland are all there. Discworld is sacred ground, of course, but at the risk of heresy, I thought the humour which permeates every page sometimes laboured, not to say coy. For example, there is much nudging and giggling when the young women of the village set about cleaning up the local hillside chalk giant with his, ‘enormous, as it were, lack of something – e.g. trousers – and what was there instead’; and Sir Terry indulges in footnotes adding more than a few jokey words, often coming back for second or third bites at the same cherry. The basic gag about Rob and the lads being a load of good- hearted Scottish vandals works for a while – but it becomes predictable.
These quibbles aside, there is much to enjoy. The tale is told with confident vitality, there is Tiffany’s resilience, her almost unconscious attraction towards Preston, a late-developer private in the castle guard, a bevy of sharply caricatured minor players and the repulsive Cunning Man. He does not have the complexity of, say, the
Shadow who pursues Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea, but he is one reason why this comic novel never descends to the frivolous. One effect of his malignity, for example, is to provoke a father to violence which kills the unborn child of his daughter. Those who are already devotees of Discworld surely do not bother with reviews; and newcomers might do best to begin, as far as Tiffany Aching is concerned, with the first of the quartet, The Wee Free Men, and see if addiction sets in.
GF Forest Born HHHHH
Shannon Hale, Bloomsbury, 400pp, 978 1 4088 0861 0, £6.99 pbk
Forest Born is the latest title in ‘The Books of Bayern’ series. In one of the previous books, The Goose Girl, Isi realised that she had special powers and was the true love of the king of the land of Bayern. Three books later, Shannon Hale brings another young girl from the forest to the city, to discover who she is as she grows into womanhood, and what her strange affinity with trees is about.
Isi, now queen of Bayern, engages Rin to look after her small son. It becomes clear that a rivalrous traitor is among them and the two women, with Isi’s ‘fire sisters’, Enna and Dasha, set off to help their defeated menfolk in their quest to defend Bayern. A great adventure ensues; Rin’s knowledge of the forest and of the language of trees helps to bring them all safely home while her growing self-knowledge allows her to return to the close-knit family she has left in the forest.
Pacy, engaging and very readable, with well-chosen language, this fur ther volume will be enjoyed by those who have immersed themselves in the world of Bayern. The characters are well-drawn and the warmth and strength of a community working together in pursuit of a worthy aim are well-depicted, the maturity of the fire sisters evident as respectful role- models for the younger Rin.
AG The Mourning Emporium HHHH
Michelle Lovric, Orion, 416pp, 978 1 84255 701 3, £9.99 hbk
Queen Victoria is dying and, in an Australian penal colony, a Pretender, Harold Hoskins, is planning to seize the British throne with the help of an army of ghost-convicts, vampiric sea- creatures and spying seabirds. In league with him is Bajomonte Tiepolo, the ghost of a mediaeval Venetian traitor who has already brought Venice to its knees by inducing an ice-storm and heavy flooding. Sailing from Venice to save London from the same fate are young Teo and her friend, Renzo, who have certain advantages over most adults, including the ability to talk to animals and see ghosts.
This summary provides only a flavour of the immense detail and intricate mythologies contained in this book, the second of a trilogy set in a fantastical alternative to the years around 1900. Without reading the first
volume, The Undrowned Child, it may be hard to absorb the dizzying kaleidoscope of characters and mythologies, although some space is taken up in the second book in summarising and re-introducing them. The author also provides an extensive appendix explaining the historical bases for the ingredients of the story in which Venice, the old maritime empire with artistic spirit, provides a catalyst for the emergence of imperial London’s own ghosts – including Roman soldiers, minstrels and sweeps – to help save the day.
Reavers, Lily seeks sanctuar y in Cambridge. There’s a palpable sense of danger attached to the PSAI that Lily owns, the last handheld computer. It contains an ominous chip which, when attached to a mainframe by academics in Cambridge, sets in motion a series of chain reactions aimed at controlling terrorist activity through maximum, fiery control.
Pursuing this theme, the text is enriched by references to writers such as Captain Marryat, John Ruskin and J M Barrie, which are slipped in between the lines of a plot embellished with numerous incidents in the style of high adventure. These incidents are suppor ted by ripely eccentric characterisations and humorous dialogue – a mermaid who has learned English from pirates says she ‘were at her wits’ end and gnawin’ on her tether’. Some of the incidents are undeniably harsh, as when a mother-seal which has just rescued Teo is killed by a villainess. Lovric also demonstrates great descriptive verve – the British coast ‘opens like a grim grey smile in the water’ – and clearly has a precise understanding of the geographies of both Venice and London, potentially encouraging her readers to turn to their maps. The book will appeal to all readers who appreciate adventure, fantasy and humour, although the centrality of Teo, albeit disguised as a boy for much of the time, may par ticularly attract female readers.
characterisation and direct dialogue make it accessible for those of 11 upwards.
Flood and Fire HHHH
Emily Diamand, Chicken House, 464pp, 978 1 906427 18 4, £6.99 pbk
Set in 2216, Flood and Fire is based in the same future floodlands as Reavers’ Ransom and Flood Child. Having escaped the clutches of the
Books for Keeps No.185 November 2010 31 RT
As with Diamand’s previous two novels the writing is spare with moments of cr ystalline clarity and beautiful phraseology. The plot here is fast- moving and agile keeping readers firmly on their toes. There’s a real sense of action, adventure and urgency running through the book and its comments on the dangers of terrorism and the fear of our acting out through extreme measures is both thought-provoking and chilling. The approach and concept is as fresh as Diamand’s future vision is fully formed in this impressive dystopian adventure.
What’s the Point of Being Green?
Jacqui Bailey, Franklin Watts, 96pp, 978 0 7496 9316 9, £12.99 hbk
This book contains a huge amount of information about the whole global- degeneration issue and many challenges to get a grip on the situation. Trouble is, though, it’s written in a for bright young things style (pages 7 and 8 include three sentences beginning ‘Okay’) and, apar t from illustrative photographs, the cartoon-style pictures appear to trivialise the text at every turn. So it’s a blessing, but a somewhat mixed one – an authoritative source book dressed up as a bit of fun, which could be just what its target audience will enjoy and from which it, and we in the long run, may profit.
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