10&#x2013;14 Middle/Secondary Double Crossing
Richard Platt, ill. Alexandra Higlett, Walker, 192pp, 978 1 4063 1466 3, &#xA3;7.99 pbk
In Defence of the Realm HHH
Sanjay Deshpande, ill. Lalit Kumar Sharma, Campfire, 96pp, 978 9 380028 05 7, &#xA3;7.99 pbk
Campfire, a Delhi based comics&#x2019; publisher, has built up an impressive English language backlist featuring retellings of European classic adventure and Indian myth and legend, perhaps reflecting the two streams of influence in Indian graphic novel publishing. Its high production values have meant that, courtesy of Random House, its titles are distributed outside the subcontinent, and this title marks a new departure: the commissioning of original stories. In Defence of the Realm is the work of an authority on the ancient Indus Valley civilisation of the Harappans and integrated into the story are fact and conjecture based on archaeological excavation. Sometimes this jars a little and interrupts the flow of the narrative but, for the most part, it&#x2019;s cleverly woven in, as when the prince at the centre of the story, sensibly thinking how he might increase the wealth of his own kingdom, marvels at the wealth and trading links of the realms he is visiting. And there is not enough archaeology, historical record or standing remains to restrain the imaginations of either author or illustrator. So Deshpande is able to invent the story of three Harappan realms that unite to defeat an invader through the diplomacy of the young prince. In his story&#x2019;s concern with statecraft, military strategy and romance, Deshpande recalls the mood of Indian epic, although no gods here intervene in earthly matters, and Princess Kundalini is herself a redoubtable warrior. Both author and illustrator have such enthusiasm for the project that the pages are sometimes on the dense side but there is a good balance of character, intrigue and action. It&#x2019;s an enjoyable introduction to the notion of the Indus Valley civilisations; and, as an epic fantasy, it&#x2019;s vigorous and intelligent.
CB 28 Books for Keeps No.186 January 2011
Enforced emigration, particularly to America, has for so long been a facet of Irish life that, as a recurring theme in Ireland&#x2019;s literature (adult and children&#x2019;s), it has accumulated its own stock of clich&#xE9;s and conventions. Richard Platt&#x2019;s Double Crossing cannot be said to escape these entirely but, thanks in no small part to the book&#x2019;s presentation and its production values, it retains a considerable freshness. At its centre is a young Irish boy, David O&#x2019;Connor, whose newly orphaned status necessitates a long journey by ship (the year is 1908) to an aunt and uncle in New York: the horrors of such a voyage and the vicissitudes of a new city life, already well documented in numerous other &#x2018;emigration&#x2019; stories, are once again rehearsed in all their degradation and painstakingly recorded in the &#x2018;journal&#x2019; which accompanies David throughout his experiences. It is one particular encounter on board the RMS &#x2018;Campania&#x2019; which brings the reader to the novel&#x2019;s central plot device &#x2013; and to the question as to just how convincing it turns out to be. But, then, how convincing is the story as a whole? It is, as an authorial &#x2018;afterword&#x2019; describes it, &#x2018;an extraordinary tale&#x2019; &#x2013; and one made all the more enticing by the numerous bits and pieces of documentation (all apparently genuine!) tipped in as mementoes to the text. Fact, fiction or faction? Take your pick.
RD Blood Crime HHHH
John Brindley, Orion, 160pp, 978 1 84255 719 8, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
In a very brave plot device the main character of this dramatic narrative, Joe Summer, spends most of the novel in a coma, fighting to regain consciousness so that he can reveal who killed his dad and deliberately infected Joe himself with meningitis.
Meanwhile Joe&#x2019;s cousin Annie, who is pretty effectively at a stage of taking on the world, and more especially her mum, re-directs her considerable energies towards interpreting the clues and delving into the facts to confirm that Joe&#x2019;s predicament is due to attempted murder.
Here there is science woven into a suspenseful story. This is an extremely deftly written read; to be devoured in one sitting. Definitely put it into the hands of kids who need short and pacy very unusual novels.
reflective reading, for it is at once novel, poem, fable and myth; a young reader might also see it as a puzzle worth solving. As she has made clear in interview, Hartnett writes first for herself and then for those who care to listen. Since she writes to explore, then not only does the whole book read as a discover y, but so do individual paragraphs and even sentences. A simile or a single word can utterly surprise the reader&#x2019;s expectation.
The Killer&#x2019;s Daughter HHHH
Vivian Oldaker, Andersen, 176pp, 978 1 84270 814 9, &#xA3;5.99 pbk
Emma is angry &#x2013; as angry as any teenager would be who has been uprooted from the crowded streets of Wandsworth to rural Wessex, where she will have to repeat a year at her new school. Things might not have been so bad but the news of her father&#x2019;s past &#x2013; he was accused (but acquitted) of murder &#x2013; has also arrived. Emma finds herself the centre of a malicious bullying campaign. It is only Bruce who is prepared to stick with her and it is Bruce who comes up with a plan to uncover the truth about her grandmother&#x2019;s death; a plan that lands Emma in real danger.
Lively, colloquial, contemporary, short chapters and plenty of dialogue, the narrative has the easy immediacy of a diary; the result &#x2013; an enjoyable read for fans of McCombie, Limb et al. Emma is a very recognisable teenager with her obsession with John Travolta, her attention to her appearance, her views on the adults around her. It is her voice which gives the narrative its freshness. While not claiming great originality, and while some of the incidents may stretch credulity, nevertheless there is a feeling of authenticity especially in the bullying and in Emma&#x2019;s final predicament which could be seen as a warning to young readers. A very accessible read for Year 7 up.
FH The Midnight Zoo HHHHH
Sonya Hartnett, Walker, 208pp, 978 1 4063 3149 3, &#xA3;8.99 hbk
The reader who savours a description of a &#x2018;voice which was like satin under a millstone, silky and bruised and ruined&#x2019; is likely to be willing to pause, maybe to reread a paragraph or to allow a scene to materialise in the mind&#x2019;s eye. As with Sonya Hartnett&#x2019;s The Ghost&#x2019;s Child, this book requires
12-year-old Andrej and his three years younger brother Tomas wander in a war-ravaged landscape, carrying their baby sister with them - Czechoslovakia, it seems &#x2013; a wasteland reduced to a theatre for warring armies. The invaders, whose language &#x2018;sounds like flying chips of wood&#x2019;, might well be Nazis &#x2013; they certainly speak German &#x2013; fighting for a leader who, like all warmongers, insists, &#x2018;I will have my way&#x2019;. Andrej and Tomas are Roma, children of a people whose peacetime way of life plays out its own forms of freedom. Their tribe, including their parents and much-loved uncle, have been brutally swallowed by the invasion. As the children journey through the dark into a deser ted village, bombed into desolation as punishment for an act of resistance, they are watched by &#x2018;the legendary black-clad horseman who is Night&#x2019;, whose remote and super- human viewpoint we never quite lose. In the village, the children find one structure intact &#x2013; a small zoo, with perhaps a dozen animals locked in their cages. They are never humanised, but it turns out the creatures can speak to the boys and, though they despise mankind and its compulsive violence, their imprison- ment allows them to understand the boys&#x2019; terrors which inhabit their own cages of mind and body.
So begins a series of conversations and stories which explore war, oppression and cruelty in contrast to freedom, love and trust. Because of the book&#x2019;s mythic qualities, ideas remain embedded in the narratives, to be experienced on the pulse as much as intellectually understood. The shadowed, moonlit world of the zoo is, in a profoundly serious way, entrancing. As far as I know, no-one else published for young people explores such themes through writing of this haunting quality.
GF Playing with Phyre HHH
Graham Marks, Catnip, 208pp, 978 1 84647 111 7, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
Haden Akatine has lost everything. His family, his home, his community have been wiped out by the evil Sardar, &#x2018;a breed of men who had a heartless disregard for life&#x2019; under the command of their tyrant lord, Dasmed Usshien. The only other person left alive is the mute, Decker. Revenge is now Haden&#x2019;s quest, and together the
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