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BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued


tempted to reveal them in a competition offering one million dollars to anyone who can prove they have supernatural powers. Little does Ross know, but there are others like him, and a whole secret society dedicated to their protection and exploitation. As Ross learns more about his abilities, he is put into terrible danger. It’s not all bad though and along the way this lonely teenager finds love, and even a new family.


As The Hidden Gift opens, Ross is holed up in a remote cottage with Hunter, a taciturn cigar-smoking minder tasked with training the bored teenager to manage his special powers. Hunter is initially suspicious of his ward, blaming him for the death of a close friend, but Ross manages to win his grudging respect. The two indulge in regular bouts of supernaturally enhanced fist–fights and when not fighting, Ross reads up on the mysterious Guilds of which he is now a member, and pines for his girlfriend, Cathy. When Hunter is sent out on a special Guild mission, he takes Ross with him. A little girl has been discovered with the ultra-rare gift of prophecy – they have to get to her before their enemies. Ross will be tested physically and mentally.


Young teen readers, girls as well as boys, are virtually unanimous in their enthusiasm for these books, and it’s not hard to see why. Ross is a convincing central character, the right mix of sulky teen and superhero, and even though the action is pretty much non-stop, there’s time for reflection and development of the wider plot and we always feel very much part of this strange team of super secret agents.


MMa


The Murder Notebooks: Killing Rachel


HHHH


Anne Cassidy Bloomsbury 313pp 978 1 4088 1551 9 £6.99pb.


For the last five years, Rose and Joshua have lived with members of their extended families after their parents disappeared during an undercover police operation. Police enquiries have led nowhere, so when they find themselves living near each other in London, Rose and Joshua decide to pursue their own hunt for their parents. With the number of unanswered questions mounting, they are finally told that their parents are dead. But do they trust the police information?


This is the second in a new series from award winner Anne Cassidy, The Murder Notebooks, named after the books which Rose and Joshua pore over to find clues to their parents’ whereabouts. Four books are planned and the extended length allows Cassidy the space to develop character as well as to draw out the mystery of the teenagers’ missing parents. In a Books for Keeps interview, Cassidy has described the importance of emotional reality in her crime writing, and here we get to learn more about both of her central characters. Rose, now at boarding school, begins to renew a typically complicated schoolgirl friendship with an old schoolmate


called Rachel – readers of course will realise immediately that Rachel is unlikely to make it to the end of the book in one piece. When Rachel is found dead, Rose determines to discover the truth about what happened to her friend. Meanwhile her stepbrother is still obsessed with finding out what happened to their parents. But could the two mysteries be related? Is it possible that photos taken by Rachel will prove that their parents are very much alive?


Despite the body count, there is little here that would upset or disturb younger teen readers though the suspense is kept high throughout and a sense of claustrophobia pervades. The book ends with a terrific reveal that will have readers eager for book three, and in all this would serve as an excellent introduction to crime writing. MMA


The Diamond Thief HHHH


Sharon Gosling, Curious Fox, 288pp, 978-1782020134, £6.99 pbk


descends to the tunnels and underground rivers of London where a dastardly plot to overthrow the British Empire is hatching. In this, Remy and another diamond, have a special part to play.


Remy herself is appealing and well described. If the other characters are less so then it is of no real matter when the story is so engrossing, the action scenes so varied and full of drama. In fact The Diamond Thief was developed through the Fiction Express scheme (http://schools.fictionexpress.co.uk), with young readers making direct contributions to the plot, something that probably accounts for the gleeful way with which opportunities are provided for narrow escapes and dramatic upset! That there is romance for Remy too, makes the whole adventure even more satisfying. A terrific yarn!


MMa


The Claws of Evil (The Battles of Ben Kingdom)


HHHH


Andrew Beasley, Usborne, 336pp, 978 1 409 544005, £6.99 pbk


The Diamond Thief is one of the first books from new fiction publisher Curious Fox, and they couldn’t have chosen a more exciting or involving adventure story with which to launch.


The opening scene sets the tempo and tone: we are in Victorian London and young Remy Brunel (relation of Marc and Isambard? Quite possibly) is the star of Le Cirque de la Lune, thrilling audiences each night with her trapeze act and, also nightly, appearing to plummet from the very top of the circus tent to the ground in a clever mix of trickery and skill. She is a thief as well as circus star and is soon sent out by her boss to steal him a diamond, not just any diamond mind, but the fabulous Darya-ye Noor itself, on special display in the Tower of London.


Though Remy follows her orders and attempts to steal the jewel, she is not the diamond thief at all. This is a book that means to dazzle and surprise readers and the story takes off in quite unexpected directions. From the top of the circus tent, the action swiftly


28 Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013


The future of the world is at stake (again); or at least, for starters, late Nineteenth Century London. The scale of things is Miltonic. Some of the bad guys, the evil Legion, are literally Fallen Angels who live in the ‘Under’, the sewers and tunnels beneath the City streets. Their shock troops include the harpy-like Feathered Men. Their opponents, the true servants of Heaven, The Watchers, appropriately tend to keep to the rooftops of the capital. Among their leaders is the mysterious Weeping Man who, when he casts aside his ‘long, square-tailed coat’ to prepare reluctantly for war, reveals wings worthy of Gabriel. Many of the foot soldiers, on both sides, are children – mudlarks and street urchins you might find in Mayhew or in Terry Pratchett’s recently published Dodger. Mr. Beasley is a little unlucky to be appearing almost simultaneously with Sir Terry, since by chance his hero, Ben Kingdom, shares the streetwise chirpiness of Dodger and, indeed, the verbal and physical resilience of Dickens’ artful pickpocket.


The narrative flips from one side to the other in this roistering adventure, meeting some colour ful characters along the way. There’s ‘Claw’ Carter, outwardly an eminent professor housed at the British Museum, but secretly lusting for world domination. He’s an old-time villain, with his boney artificial hand to say nothing of his mastery of Mongolian, Swahili, Mandarin and Gujurati. He lacks only the Judas Coin, the 30th piece of silver; then he’ll be unstoppable. Ben has the coin in his possession, though he doesn’t know its power; in an effective strand of the plot, the adventures the coin precipitates lead Ben and his widower father into a far richer understanding. Then there are some lively young women on both sides, whom Ben finds disturbingly beguiling, even when they’re clearly not to be trusted. Also to be numbered among the angels is old blind Jago Moon, whose wisdom and senses of smell and hearing offer far more than mere sight to The Watchers.


Some of these characters have magical gifts and here’s where things are a little confused – the theology is a bit rocky, if you like. The relationship between The Watchers and the established church stretches credulity, so that the interplay between Ben’s London and the historical city of the 1890s doesn’t stand comparison, for example, with Pullman’s carefully crafted parallel worlds. It may also not have been wise to decree that the birthday of Ben, the Chosen One, the Saviour of the World (provided he resists temptation) should fall on Christmas Day. That begs more questions than it answers.


Such reservations may be dismissed as tedious by readers swept along by the plot towards what ought to be a cataclysmic battle around the sewers and rooftops of the City. In fact, perhaps because this is (again) the first of a series, the author has to hold something back for later books, so the final fight in this episode is more of a skirmish than an Armageddon. Nevertheless, there is much colour, humour and pathos in this welcome first novel from a writer described in the blurb as an ex-lawyer, traveller and now primary school teacher. How he manages to write with such invention and energy alongside the day job is cause enough for congratulation. GF


Kill Order HHH


James Dashner, Chicken House, 336pp, 9781908435590, £6.99 pbk


The world is in chaos. Devastating sun flares have destroyed civilisation as we know it. People survive in small communities trying to cobble their lives together. Mark and Trina are two teenagers in this struggle to survive. Together with Alec, the ex-US soldier, they are managing create a new life. Then comes the attack; a terrible virus is let loose. No one seems to be immune from a contagion that sends people mad. But where has it come from? Who is responsible? The trio embark on a race against time to try find a safe haven.


Kill Order is a prequel to the best selling trilogy that began with Maze Runner. It is very much aimed at fans who have already read those titles, and readers unfamiliar with the original sequence might struggle. The central plot is easy enough to follow and presumably sets the scene for what follows. However both the prologue and epilogue are confusing - the reader would have to recognise the references to appreciate their relevance. This is unlikely to trouble most young readers who will be reading it for the action; and action there is - in spades. Think Bruce Willis, non-stop gun fire, racing, chasing, horror after horror, one climactic moment after another - this is the flavour of the narrative. Clichés abound, characterisation and reflection are set aside in favour of detailed description of extreme behaviour, extreme action.


Kill Order will satisfy those who enjoy the dystopian futures represented by writers such as Michael Grant and films of the same genre. Aimed at KS3 and upwards.


FH


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