she feels ensnared by the stone walls, tedious traditions, and endless designs for her future there by those around her.
But there is more to Clariel than a young girl yearning for freedom; she is a Beserk. If she gives in to her rage, it becomes so strong and overwhelming she is gifted with both physical and raw magical strength. It borders on a form of Free Magic – the dangerous and unrestrained magic associated with the most perilous creatures of the Kingdom.
When mages of the Charter – the complex and ordered form of magic that binds the land – ask Clariel to face such a creature, she tastes a power she has never known before, and sees a chance for escape, if she can stay one step ahead of her deadly enemies and dubious allies.
Despite feeling a little slow to start in detailing Clariel’s new life and the political machinations of the city, Nix’s writing is always assured and genuinely transporting. There’s also plenty of empathy with modern teenage life with distracted parents, societal and environmental constraints, and learning who to trust. Once the scene has been set and the magical aspects come to the fore, the story really comes into its own. The adventure becomes gripping, and Clariel’s choices more complicated, and her decisions more desperate, if naïve, with grave, life-changing consequences.
More ponderous than its predecessors, there’s plenty to recommend this book to new readers. For those who love the Old Kingdom trilogy, it’s a welcome return.
MH The Boundless HHH
Kenneth Oppel, David Fickling Books, 978 1 910200010 0, 336pp, £10.99, hbk
All aboard for an old-fashioned adventure story mercifully free of vampires and where no-one dies a protracted death from an incurable disease. The setting is the Canadian wilderness, 1887, so there is no possibility of any dystopian resonances either. But that said, Kenneth Oppel still has to work hard to keep his story quite literally on the rails. Adolescent Will, on the first journey ever taken by the greatest steam engine ever built, is part of a moving train-city seven miles in length. His father, endangered without knowing it, is driving 987 carriages which range from first class to something more like a slum for its third class passengers. Taken up by a travelling circus with its own special quarters, Will manages to avoid the wicked brakeman Brogan out for his blood after he witnesses him murdering a former colleague.
Will endures a number of near-escapes, at least one too many as a degree of repetition starts to kick in. But there is a nice sub-plot involving his growing feelings for Maren, a female acrobat his own age
and equally keen on him. All this time adjectives fly past and melodrama continually beckons as the author strives to keep up with a story ultimately too long for its own good. Its image of a monster train remains a powerful one, however, and there are other memorable moments in this hard-working novel looking back to a time when adventure ruled supreme in fiction written primarily for uncomplicated enjoyment.
Apple and Rain HHHH
Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury, 978 1 4088 5306 1, 340pp, £10.99, hbk
Apple has lived most of her life with the mystery of why her mother Annie left home. And, in contrast to strict Nana who has brought Apple up and her father who has a new family, her actress mum has acquired the glamour of absence. When she returns and invites Apple to live with her, then Apple finds herself recast in the role of carer, not only of new sister, Rain, but also, to an extent, of Annie herself. Apple, who faces crises of love and friendship at school and emotional upheavals at home, is a sympathetic figure. Sometimes foolish, frustrated and thoughtless, like all of us, her loyalties are pulled this way and that. But her heart is in the right place and gradually she finds support. There’s new friend Del, a bit weird yet reassuringly persistent when Apple gives him an initial brush off. Most of all, there’s Mr Gaydon, the new English teacher, who discovers and encourages Apple’s talent for poetry, a means to understand and express the feelings that threaten to overwhelm her. Sarah Crossan writes elegantly and engagingly about recognisable characters coping sometimes well and sometimes not so well with difficult, yet not exceptional, situations. Even those readers who don’t share Apple’s and the author’s passion for poetry, will find much to enjoy and think about as they imagine themselves in Apple’s shoes. CB
Sam Angus, Macmillan, 256pp., 9781447263029, £6.99 pbk.
It is always interesting to watch the growth of an author, and I have been able to do this with Sam Angus. I have reviewed all three of her books to date. Captain is a huge leap forward from Soldier Dog, and A Horse called Hero, both of which were about war and animals. Captain is a raw novel about war, in all its gory detail sometimes, but also about a friendship which survives war and the hero, Billy’s actions.
Billy is an under- age soldier who discovers quite early on that he is not treated as one of the boys because of his age. He encounters Captain in Egypt tending to his donkey called Hey-Ho, and witnessed Captain’s father being stripped of his Corporal’s stripes and the boy’s distress. They are about the same age, and
The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart
Linda Coggin, Hot Key Books, 9781471403149, 240pp, £10.99 hbk
When the security guards come for Thomas Bailey, to shoot or confiscate the animals he keeps, they find him dead and the wild girl who lived with him gone. Brought up by a pack of dogs she is able to look after herself. But the hunt is on - where can she go? A meeting with two boys, Caius and Jay, gives her a purpose and a name. Together they will escape to The Edge and maybe there they will find freedom. But will it be what they want?
Linda Coggin is a powerful new voice and has written a powerful fable for our time. Taking a dystopian setting she imagines a community that has outlawed danger - the forest has been cut down, the animals killed or captured, children are tethered until they are seven and people get their excitement from circus acts and shooting stuffed beasts. Most people conform, controlled by the sadistic Bolverk. But what if like Nona you want to be free - or are
encounter each other again at Gallipolli where Captain’s father is killed. From then on throughout the time there and in subsequent theatres of war, Sinai and Palestine, Captain and the donkey faithfully and doggedly supply soldiers of the Yeomanry. Finally Billy makes a dreadful mistake which colours the end of his war and bows him down. There is a happy ending however.
Billy is a rounded character and his feelings of loneliness at being so young amongst the men is well drawn, and therefore his need for his friendship with Captain who is much the same age. Billy’s fear of using his bayonet in close combat is well portrayed, and the reader feels his sense of disappointment with himself when he treats Captain badly, despite the other boy’s faithfulness to him. There are many graphic descriptions of battles and the aftermath of them, the fear, the stench, the wounded and the dying and it is this which moves Sam Angus’ growth on as a writer. She has felt able to really describe for her reader the reality of war, with the adrenalin flowing, but also the fear and the chaos. Captain transfers his love to Billy after the death of his father, loyally following Billy and his regiment, supplying water and food to them in the trenches at Gallipolli, and in the desert. There are some very good pieces about the difficulties of using
camels which give a little light relief to a sombre story.
Soldier Dog graphically described the conditions in the trenches of France during the Great War and the use of dogs to carry messages. This book moves away from the animal story to one of humans in all their frailties facing the enemy, and is a very good book indeed. I just wish that the cover reflected the story more as this is definitely not a story about a boy and a donkey. This is at the top end of the age range 10-14 and with a different cover would sit well in any teenage library. There have been many novels about the war in the trenches, but this highlights in particular Gallipolli, and the war in the desert during the 1914-18 conflict.
Finding a Voice: Friendship is a Two-Way Street
Kim Hood, O’Brien Press, 240pp, 978-1847175434, £6.99 pbk
‘One, two, three, four’ Jo counts the steps from her home to her hideout, a derelict cabin by a river. The counting gives her some control over the chaos of her home life. Jo lives with her mother who has severe mental health problems. Looking after her mum, making sure she takes her tablets, trying to avoid the
Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014 27
like Jay whose body has been remade? The journey taken by the three friends is full of danger and knife-edge escapes; their relationships
straightforward while over all looms the threat of Bolverk who like Jay has a body created by technology. An assured storytelling style drives the plot along creating a sense of urgency and demanding attention. The ending brings a satisfactory conclusion - or does it? This is not a fairy tale; freedom may not be happy ever after. Fans of Piers Torday or Sonia Hartnett will find much to recognise and recommend. An author to watch. FH
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