BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued
its predecessors. Picking up on Cat’s background, theatrical allusions abound from the organisation of the chapters (Acts and scenes) to the content with its strong element of melodrama and even pantomime. Cat is a lively protagonist whose exuberant approach to life will attract young readers. By giving her orphan status and a bohemian background, she can move across all barriers with friends ranging from the aristocracy to criminals from the London slums. This allows Golding to introduce a wealth of colour ful historical detail and characters. However, this background is applied with a broad brush, in no way impeding the non-stop action of the plot which moves briskly along carrying the reader with it. A lively, undemanding but extended read for readers aged 8 and up. And Cat Royal fans can look forward to more.
FH The Crowfield Demon HHH
Pat Walsh, Chicken House, 400pp, 978 1 906427 63 4, £6.99 pbk
This sequel to Pat Walsh’s The Crowfield Curse returns us to Crowfield barely three months later, and if orphan Will thought that evil had been vanquished from his adopted home, he soon has to wake up and smell the caudle. A stomach-turning encounter with the Dark King in disguise shows that danger lurks once more in those parts. The Abbey building has begun mysteriously to crumble, and as the monks try desperately to repair the damage, Will finds a truly terrifying object buried under the floor of a side chapel that could spell the end of Crowfield for ever.
Once again Pat Walsh brings the cloistered world of Crowfield vividly to life and we learn more absorbing snippets about medieval life along the way. Will is an engaging hero, and the concept of ancient pagan spirits which lie trapped and bent on revenge beneath the foundations of the Christian abbey is a compelling one. There’s even a nice nod to Dan Brown in the feverish speculation about the mysterious bowl that Will unearths. If it were a little shorter, The Crowfield
Demon would better sustain a sense of real peril. The demon itself is somehow not as frightening as it might be, such that I began to wonder if it had a genuine grievance about a great big abbey being built without planning permission, smack on top of its spiritual home. But there’s still plenty to enjoy here. And I love now knowing what caudle is.
CS The Dragon Whisperer HHHHH
Lucinda Hare, Corgi, 416pp, 978 0 552 56022 1, £5.99 pbk
Quenelda is passionate about dragons. She also has a special ability to communicate with them, an innate gift the importance of which only her father and the elderly dragon master know. Her father, commander of the most feared battle-dragon regiment in Dragonsdome, allows her to spend her days in the company of dragons, honing her riding skills and learning to care for them. Dreading the day when she must swap her boots and breeches for lace and silk and join the other young girls at court, she begs her father to allow her to continue her dragon education a while longer. Her ambition is to
accompany him into battle, swooping through the skies on her scaly mount. He agrees to postpone her court debut, provided she trains seriously by taking on young Root as apprentice. Root is her opposite: newly orphaned, he’s fear ful, timid and inept, with no enthusiasm for dragons. But gradually, from their relationship grow friendship and loyalty – and also self-awareness – traits essential to combating the gathering storm of treachery, sorcery and evil that is encircling the realm.
The story skilfully weaves a fantasy world that is utterly convincing, peopled with humans, gnomes, hobgoblins and many-hued dragons. The writing is energetic, poetic at times, with vivid descriptions of landscape adding atmosphere and mood. By the end of the book, many of the story threads remain unresolved so whetting the reader’s appetite and leaving room for a sequel, which is due to be published shortly. David Wyatt’s finely hatched drawings echo the richness of the story.
Sita, Daughter of the Earth HHH
Saraswati Nagpal, ill. R Mandikandan, Campfire, 96pp, 978 93 80028 37 8, £7.99 pbk
The epic of the Ramayana is here presented as a very colourful graphic novel, with Sita as a Bollywood beauty and Rama and Lakshmana as well-ripped Hollywood hunks. The format is well-suited to this tale of struggles between demons and demigods, though I was a little disappointed at the restraint practised by artist and writer in eschewing the possibilities afforded by full and double page spreads for depicting the epic’s many scenes of spectacular miracle and carnage.
The emphasis here is firmly on the subtler details of the story; in par ticular, the incessant conflicts between the iron code of Kshatriya honour and the passion of the lovers at the centre of the story. As the title signifies, the authorial voice is Sita’s, giving prominence to aspects sometimes marginalized by those retellings which culminate in a triumphant Diwali: the trial by fire when her chastity is doubted, her second exile to the forest to bear her children alone, her eventual abandonment of Rama, after a life of defiantly patient devotion, for reunion with her mother Budhevi, the goddess of the Earth. A quiet poignancy counterpoints the fiery graphics of these pages, giving readers yet another perspective on an inexhaustibly retellable tale.
10 – 14 Middle/Secondary Gravenhunger
Harriet Goodwin, Stripes, 192pp, 978 1 84715 154 4, £5.99 pbk
12-year-old Phoenix goes to stay at the mysterious house his mother (who has recently died) has left his father – a house they knew nothing about, which exists in its own stormy micro climate, defying the summer heat in which the surrounding countryside is basking. Warned not to visit the burial mound just beyond the garden, Phoenix and his cousin Rose stumble upon the reason for his mother’s silence about the house and discern what took place there in her childhood. Their attempts to set things right succeed after encountering the spirits which haunt the place.
Very readable, with shades of William Mayne’s Earthfasts, the story shows how Phoenix’s desperation to understand his mother’s past helps him begin his own journey to acceptance, helped by his developing friendship with Rose. I found the ending somewhat abrupt and a little unsatisfying, but it doesn’t detract unduly from this enjoyable if undemanding read.
AG The Rabbit Girl HHH
Mary Arrigan, Frances Lincoln, 224pp, 978 1 84780 156 2, £6.99 pbk
Three different places: three different times. Mary Arrigan’s novel deals with a variety of settings and, occasionally with the help of some handy coincidences, succeeds in linking them
26 Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011
into a story of some charm and originality.
chapter resurrects the Ireland of 1934, with five-year-old Tony seeing his mother die, the prelude to his subsequent emigration with his father to London. The arrival of war brings further dislodgement for the boy in the form of evacuation to a farm in the Lake District, where he is befriended by another London evacuee, Alice, staying on a neighbouring farm owned by the mysterious ‘Mrs H’. London bombing raids seem far away from the two children’s new surroundings which, while never particularly harsh, demand hard work and application, alleviated by Mrs H’s kind concern. She, it turns out, is an artist of considerable distinction and it is one of her paintings, featuring a girl and a rabbit, which links the wartime dimension of Arrigan’s story with ‘England, the present day’, to quote the title of her second chapter. In this setting, some seventy years on from the Lake District chapters, we encounter best friends Mallie and Jamila, both young teenagers: the former, in choosing a birthday present for her aspiring artist mother, happens to come across an old painting...Th
e various worlds of Arrigan’s novel are brought together with a fair balance of poignancy, sentimentality and humour, the last of these evident mainly in the ‘present day’ chatter between Mallie and Jamila. And, by way of an extra bonus, there is a closing revelation about the precise identity of Mrs H. Older readers, drawing on their knowledge of the Lake District, literary rabbits and artistic ladies, may possibly have had their suspicions sometime before all is made clear.
No Passengers Beyond This Point
Gennifer Choldenko, Bloomsbury, 256pp, 978 1 4088 1572 4, £6.99 pbk
Here for a change is a teenage novel unlike any other. Starting with that most recurring of current clichés, whereby young characters are shown having to cope with a sudden and initially unwanted relocation to somewhere remote in the country, things then take a wholly unexpected turn. Half way through the journey to their new home, the flight that the three American siblings are on makes an unscheduled stop at a strange place which initially looks like some sort of
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