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BfK 10–14 Middle/Secondary continued

the pattern. Olivia’s late husband was an alcoholic too.

The truth must at all costs be kept from the maternal grandparents and from social services. Martha seeks advice from the family doctor, who agrees to put her father in touch with an adviser. But he warns her to take no further action: she’s just too young to shoulder the burden.

Matters go from bad to worse when the children find their father out cold on the floor next to a broken bottle. He makes an effort to improve, but falls into the hands of the authorities when he crashes his car. The children have to move to the house of their grandparents. The remainder of the book sets out to answer this question: can the family be reunited?

This is a bleak scenario, a tale of compulsive drunkenness. One of Mason’s most appealing skills however is his ability to lighten the tone. He uses characters such as the flamboyant young maker of shor t films, Marcus Brown, with whom Martha joyfully collaborates. The book is rich in intertextuality, referencing books Martha and her brother are reading such as Little Women and A Little Princess, and versions of films Martha is making with Marcus. Where the narratives of films are complex enough to test the comprehension of young readers, Marcus patiently explains the nuances to Tug, and the reader follows.

One flaw in this otherwise admirable book arises from the characterization of Martha. It is part of her life story that she must be mature beyond her years. But in truth she behaves with a degree of maturity that simply rings false for a girl of eleven.

RBu Wreckers HHHH

Julie Hearn, Oxford, 352pp, 978 0 19 272929 3, £6.99 pbk

Julie Hearn must enjoy a challenge. Some of her plot’s ingredients are: the original Pandora’s Box; 18th-century Cornish Wreckers; 2028 England with London wiped out 15 years earlier in The Attack, a kamikaze terrorist assault; a ‘meltingly gorgeous’ Hollywood actor backed by a production crew including a ‘researcher’ who is an undercover scholar/US government agent; and a mysterious boarded-up mansion on the cliffs, guarding a dangerous secret. The world has been jolted to its senses by The Attack and, guided by the newly-thriving Eco-Christian Church, governments are restoring the fishing grounds to their former levels. Such reform requires


governance, however, and society has returned to whippings, hangings, and severe punishment for such crimes as pregnancy outside marriage. The narrative is carried by the distinctive voices of a group of five teenagers, punctuated

by occasional

commentary from an all-knowing voice (set in italics); its identity, this voice teases, we ‘won’t know until after you

die, and maybe not even then’. Arching over all of this is a Great Archetypal Theme worthy of any Greek myth: Hope versus Hopelessness.

Of course it is a distor tion to summarise by way of such a list, but even so this mixture really shouldn’t work. There probably is too much to handle here, but Hearn is a storyteller well able to keep her readers intrigued until these disparate elements resolve into a coherent narrative. The youngsters are an interesting and varied group who have grown up securely together in the small Cornish village of Por t Zannon; now, in adolescence, they are finding that things are changing disturbingly between them. Their familiar relationships are shifting and to make matters more confusing, the tale in which they become entangled has its explosive sources in classical story and the wrecking savageries of their own ancestors. It may stretch belief to suggest that the future of civilization (as it has evolved from our own pre- Attack years) depends on five teenagers in a fishing village; but so long as readers surrender to the headlong excitement of the telling, they will accept that the teenagers’ actions might aver t a global catastrophe. For if Hopelessness, accidentally released by one of the youngsters from Pandora’s Box, spreads out over the sea and beyond, what else is there? Ironically, it turns out that Hopelessness itself is vulnerable to the power of love; and so long as Hearn can make you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

GF Agent 21 HHH

Chris Ryan, Red Fox, 352pp, 978 1 849 41007 6, £5.99 pbk

Tragically orphaned as the result of an unexplained mass murder in a Nigerian hotel (as you are), teenager Zak Darke signs up to work as an operative for an unnamed government agency (as you do), after being approached by a mysterious cherr y-tobacco trailing stranger, known only as Michael (think guardian archangel). ‘You fit a profile, Zak. A very precise one.’ After an intensive period of training on a remote Scottish island from which Zak emerges super-fit, fluent in Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin, and a crack shot (as you do) he is sent undercover to Mexico on his first assignment as Agent 21. It’s a piffling matter of infiltrating the lethal world of a super- power ful drug lord, and gathering enough evidence against him for British agents to swoop down and take him in.

The plot of this first book in a new series from former SAS operative Chris Ryan veers from the ludicrous to the predictable. There is little depth to any of the characters, the prose is frequently leaden, the dialogue wooden, and to say it is cliché-ridden is an understatement. But somehow, when you are in the heat of the action, it doesn’t much matter. For Ryan

28 Books for Keeps No.188 May 2011

knows precisely what calibre of high- octane detail to dish up for a pulsating ride: nasty security men bristling with automatic weapons; GPS tracking chips in socks, drugs in the jungle, sinister one-eyed Mexican psycho- paths; car chases; UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (no ordinary chopper you understand) capable of firing 7.62mm rounds at a rate of up to 6000 rounds a minute. I was, quite unexpectedly, gripped by it all.


the significance of ‘the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’. Quite alarmingly, it turns out that being vir tuous is no guarantee of a pleasant afterlife. By sheer chance, you can end up in the mire. Equally, wicked people can get lucky.

The underlying theme of this unconventional and courageous book is the randomness of human existence and fate. We are creatures at the mercy of chance. Parents who want to bring up their children to believe that good and evil are rewarded and punished on some basis of justice might think carefully before they buy Westwood’s book.

RBu The Replacement HHH

Brenna Yovanoff, Simon & Schuster ‘Pulse’, 384pp, 978 1 84738 839 1, £6.99 pbk

Ministry of Pandemonium HHHH

Chris Westwood, Frances Lincoln, 384pp, 978 1 84780 190 6, £6.99 pbk

12-year-old Ben Harvester has just moved to a new home and a new school. In Highgate Cemeter y he encounters an old man named Mr Dudley October who commiserates with him on the death of his aunt Carrie. But Aunt Carrie has been out of touch for years and no one knew she had died. In school Ben has a vision of two children who have died in a fire. They are desperate for his help.

Mr October, it transpires, is a member of an organisation called the Ministry of Pandemonium, which escorts the souls of the departed to a better world. They compete with the Lords of Sundown, headed by Mr Cadaver, who want to send the dear departed to a darker fate. Ben has special gifts that make him a desirable recruit for the Ministry. Westwood’s book draws on the ancient Greek myth of the psychopompos, the spirit that leads the souls of the dead into the other world.

Ben is now irresistibly drawn into a war between the forces of good and evil – and a very violent war it is too. When the crux of the battle comes, Ben acts on his own initiative in a way that violates the code of the Ministry, a risky move that has enormous consequences for Ben and for many others.

It would be easy to mistake this book for a simple blood and thunder story. It has some features that would fit well in a horror comic, such as flesh-eating monsters known as Mawbreeds. However, the book has a deeper and darker side. It explores quite profoundly issues of life and death and

‘Have you not noticed that everyone in this town is desperately committed to pretending that nothing is wrong?’ Thus Emma Doyle at an early moment in Brenna Yovanoff’s novel to her 16-year- old brother Mackie, the ‘replacement’ of the title. As the boy’s first person narrative proceeds it becomes clear that in this small American town called Gentry something is very ‘wrong’ indeed; the central question of the unravelling events will focus on Mackie’s role in attempting to put things right. He has come to merit the ‘replacement’ label as, some 16 years previously, he had been made to exchange places with a human child, having come from Mayhem, the underground world existing beneath Gentry’s slag heaps. He has survived, in spite of his various allergies, much longer than would seem to be the case with other Gentry changelings and now that the young sister of Tate, a girl to whom he is attracted, has apparently vanished he embarks on a return to Mayhem in the hope that she might be waiting to be rescued there. It is all totally preposterous, though not without its entertaining moments – there are two rather good teenage par ty scenes, for example – and Mackie, its central character, has undoubtedly a certain ethereal charm. Fans of the paranormal will respond favourably to the book’s ghoulish and macabre aspects, best seen in its portrayals of Mayhem’s distinctly weird inhabitants. If there is anything serious intended in all this, it has probably to do with the need to accept the ‘otherness’ within our society and not to be too easily seduced by super ficial appearances.


The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group


Catherine Jinks, Quercus, 416pp, 978 1 84916 324 8, £6.99 pbk

‘Just because you’re a werewolf doesn’t mean that you can’t live your life exactly the way you want to.’ This refreshing take on life as a supernatural being sets the tone for Catherine Jinks’ novel. There are no terrifyingly inexplicable murders, no dark arts or flights of luridly coloured

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