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dog Hamloaf is also memorable. And there is a twist in the Brie/Jacob relationship that takes the reader by surprise and is sensitively handled.

On the whole however this book is a daring experiment that misses its mark. The strength of the narrative is insufficient to carry conviction. The reader does not become sufficiently acquainted with Brie in her life to develop strong sympathy with her. RB

Twisted Heart HHHH

Eden Maguire, Hodder, 448pp, 978 1 4449 0187 0, £6.99 pbk

Following on from Dark Angel (reviewed in BfK No.191),Twisted Heart is the second book in a trilogy. Tania, an ‘angel of light’, is locked in a titanic struggle with the dark angels, and she experiences nightmare visions: ‘Hell is always close to where I stand,’ she tells us. In the everyday world, Tania appears to suffer from little more than paranoia, par ticularly over the attentions that her boyfriend might be receiving while he is away.

good and evil. Towards the end, it becomes an all-out adventure-story, with a series of convoluted plot reversals that run the risk of undermining much of what has gone before. This potential problem is countered by emphasising the ‘mind-games’ played by the Community’s members. With some references to teenage sex and the occasional use of swear-words, the book is best for those of 14 and over, and it will appeal particularly to female readers.


Cat Clarke, Quercus, 384pp, 978 0 8573 8205 4, £6.99 pbk

C. S. Lewis described ‘Hamlet’ as a play in which the protagonist is given a task by a ghost. In a similar fashion, Alice King is compelled by the spirit of her erstwhile classmate, Tara, to ascertain the details surrounding her mysterious and violent death as the victim of her revengeful peers. Alice, as a member, albeit a reluctant one, of the gang that kidnapped and ‘tortured’ Tara, is sworn to silence and has her guilt compounded by the suicide of one of her co-conspirators, and the sensitively depicted deepening love for, and involvement with, the dead girl’s brother.

As the book begins, Tania has returned from her film-studies course in Paris to her home near Denver. She becomes involved with the New Dawn Community, which has been created to open up young offenders ‘to a completely new beginning’ through a combination of outward-bound exploration and communing with the Native American spirit-world. Tania is impressed by the Community’s founder, Antony Amos, a director of films such as Evil Death, and is also attracted to some of the par ticipants (the ‘Explorers’). But after one of the Explorers is drowned while taking part in a triathlon, a chain of events develops in which Tania’s visions place her ‘on the edge of a fantasy forest peopled by ghosts and nightmares’, and she comes to fear the ‘unnatural, mesmeric beauty’ of these ‘love thieves’.

Readers of Dark Angel will be ken to read this sequel, but it can also be appreciated as a stand alone title in its alternations between teenage American life and loves and the struggle between

The tension between Alice’s perceived duty to the dead and protection of the living, including her recently widowed father, is captured in this novel’s title, which might also be seen to hint at the uneven nature of the writing. Alice’s strong, individualistic narrative voice is often at odds with the stereotypical portrayal of other adolescent girls, whom Clarke too often depicts as petty, cruel, fickle and manipulative. This lack of depth and subtlety is also reflected in Tara’s seeming sexual rapacity, and, as if to punish her for this trait, the sickening disposal of her body. Alice’s heroic and dramatic action, which ends the work, brings us back to ‘Hamlet’ and notions of ‘to thine own self be true’ – whatever the consequences. Nothing clichéd here. CR

Plague HHH

Michael Grant, Egmont, 544pp, 978 1 4052 5656 8, £12.99 hbk

Reviewers of the books in Michael Grant’s ‘Gone’ series which precede Plague (Gone, Hunger, Lies) compared them to Lord of the Flies. Grant himself denied seeing any similarity until others suggested it, but acknowledged the probable influence of the TV series Lost and Stephen King’s The Last Stand (‘I loved this book,’ says Stephen King on the dust jacket.). Apart from the fact that a bunch of kids below the age of 15 is isolated in an adult-free zone and reduced to frequent violence, I wouldn’t make any such comparison. The five characters of substance in Golding’s story are drawn with psychological complexity and individuality. Grant’s 30 or 40 named characters move rapidly in and out of his plot; they are closer to comic-book or computer game

the children’s book magazine online No.189 | July 2011

super-heroes, with no more than a couple of personality traits apiece and, sometimes, spectacular supernormal powers. The moving deaths of Piggy and Simon reverberate through events and minds on Golding’s island; in Plague, death is neither here nor there, though the manner of the killing is often prolonged and graphic and, I’d guess, provides one of the book’s attractions.

It is almost pointless to try to board this express plot at page 1 of Plague. It’s very hard to know who is who. There is little exploration of characters’ minds or motives, and since very few are differentiated through their voices, action is all. You need to begin with Gone to know what on ear th is happening and how we got here from there. For the record, though, this is another dystopic episode played out under the 20 mile diameter dome which is the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) surrounding the American seaside town of Perdido Beach. For reasons not yet revealed (though we know it is partly to do with a nuclear power station in the region), this area is inhabited only by people under the age of 15, struggling with hunger, lawlessness, sadistic brutality and everything else that under fifteens struggle with at the best of times. Now they have to confront not one but two plagues. The first involves the emergence of repellent winged snakes which gestate inside human bodies (and within the local marauding coyotes, it turns out) before bursting

through the skin of shoulder or stomach, mouthpar ts chomping hungrily. (Remember Aliens, Sigourney Weaver and the chestbusters? These are those monsters’ close kin and just as nasty.)

As if this wasn’t enough for the good guys to take on, the more-or-less human bad guys – already familiar to readers of the series – are on the murderous rampage again. Grant switches the focus from one adventure or location to another effor tlessly. Alongside all those different names zipping in and out of the plot, readers need also to handle gravity-defying levitations, death-dealing rays springing from finger-tips, mutating creatures, off-page sex, pitched battles where the future of the entire population is at stake, and torrents of gore. And there’s another thing – the second plague, a virus that spreads very fast, its victims coughing up their intestines in explosive and terminal agonies. For quite a while I resisted all this stuff, but in the end the sheer narrative energy of it all kept me page-turning with an increasing need for a resolution.

For those who have the stamina and the stomach – and judging by the web sites and all the spin-offs feeding on the first three books, countless readers already know they have – Fear and Light are already promised. That should be another thousand-plus pages still to come in the next couple of years. GF

The entire Books for Keeps archive is available to read on line. Visit the children’s book magazine online No.190 | September 2011

the children’s book magazine online No.192 | January 2012

the children’s book magazine online No.191 | November 2011 Stiefvater Authorgraph Maggie

Margo Lanagan


Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012 31

Horrid Henry image © Tony Ross

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