Tally-ho and away we go with two new-release titles for the young and young at heart and old-but-still-funky set. I’m very pleased to present you with two exciting tid-bits today – an original fantasy tale that mashes science with magic and just about everything in between, and a modern makeover of the adventures of one S. Holmes, Esq. and his trusty pal, John Watson. Both are worthy of your attention, but will probably appeal to different audiences…although they’re both great picks for young male readers.
To Dragon Number One!
The Curse of the Thrax (Book 1 of the Bloodsword Trilogy) by Mark Murphy is a pacey, original story within a traditional fantasy context, but one that I can guarantee will not go in the direction you expect. The story is set in a world possibly in our distant future, wherein science and modern technology as we know it has given way to simpler lifestyles of farming and hunting. The book follows Jaykriss and Marda, two young friends who are learning to be hunters and warriors in the shadow of heroic fathers who have died. While out hunting one day, the boys are chased by the Thrax – a ferocious and almost-unstoppable dragon – and take refuge in a cave. Inside the cave, they discover Zamarcus, an old man who possesses many relics of the “Time Before” – relics that have been forbidden by the tyrannical Dark King – and Jaykriss and Marda are drawn into a quest that could see Jaykriss take his rightful place as King, wielding his father’s weapon, the Bloodsword. Sounds simple enough right? From this point in the book, things start to deviate from your standard fantasy plot as we are introduced to a whole host of other elements that move this story from your average “boy-who-would-be-king” fare, to a tome that takes in post-apocalyptic themes, coming-of-age themes and a twist at the end that turns the the tables and will have you second-guessing who the real enemy is in this tale.
If you are looking for a book for boys (or girls who particularly love action and adventure), then The Curse of the Thrax will tick every box. There’s hunting, fishing, warriors, monsters, thugs, sailing, science, myth, kidnappings, a Dark King, a Queen of a Dead City, swordplay, archery, battles, and a talking raven. This is not an exhaustive list of the boy-appeal in this book either, just a small sampling.
The main characters, Jaykriss and Marda, are typical young teens who live an ordinary life of hunting, school, girl-admiration (from afar!) and general tomfoolery. Marda is a joker, while Jaykriss bears the burden of a famous father on his shoulders. Zamarcus, who becomes something of a mentor and father-figure for the boys, is the quintessential wise old man, but also maintains a rebellious streak that fires the boys’ curiosity about their world and the time before.
It took me a little while to get into this book – about six or seven chapters – but once Zamarcus enters the narrative I was well and truly drawn in. The story has a strange pacing, with ordinary, everyday sort of events in the boys’ home village interspersed with action, questing and battles and I did find this a bit jarring. I suspect that the pacing lends itself to a story that is best read slowly, as to allow all the complicated bits and pieces to percolate through one’s mind.
Because this is a very complicated story (don’t let the cartoonish cover fool you!), there are elements to the plot that I haven’t described, just because to do so would make this review untenably long. Suffice to say, this is both like and unlike fantasy stories that I have read before. I think the standout part of this book is the way that science and fantasy have been used together in the world-building. I also think that this book would have been much, much more enjoyable in print – the complexity of the story and the high fantasy elements deserve to be read on proper skin-of-dead-tree.
I highly recommend this one to lovers of fantasy who don’t mind a mild twist on an old genre, and to those who like to savour and draw out their stories, rather than rush through to the end.
Now, to Dragon Number Two!
The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon (Book 1 in the Elementary, My Dear Watson series) by Jose Prendes is a modern re-working of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Holmes and Watson as school boys at the same boarding school. In this first adventure, Watson is sent to Candlewood school when his mother becomes terminally ill. While there, he meets Sherlock, and is at first put off by his abrupt, seemingly anti-social manner, but becomes drawn into a mystery regarding a number of students disappearing from the school. With Holmes and Watson on the case the villains cannot hope to make good on their nefarious plans, but before the crime can be stopped the boys will need to find the answers to some very tricky problems…such as why does the kidnapper only seem to take girls? How can they conduct their investigations with the Head Mistress keeping her beady eyes on their every move? And is Inspector Lestrade as inept as he makes out? (Just a tip: the answer to that last one is “Yes. Yes he is.”)
This is the book that I was hoping Knightley and Son was going to be. Where I found that one to be lacking was in the area of character development, and I’m pleased to say that The Astounding Adventure etc etc has a strong narrative voice and a likeable and believable narrator in young Master Watson. For those loyalists, there’s not too much movement away from the original characters if you excuse the fact that they’re much younger than Sir A. Conan Doyle originally wrote them, but the characterisation is simultaneously faithful to the originals, and creatively interpreted for younger readers, with plenty of (lovely, dry) humour (and a bit of innocent romance) thrown in.
The investigative action is interspersed with some exciting fight and escape sequences (who knew Sherlock was a dab hand at the fighting arts?!) so the story contains elements that will appeal to fans of action-based narrative, without putting off those who are drawn in by the cerebral elements of crime investigation. The crime (or mystery, I suppose) that is being investigated is pretty simple, with only a small pool of possible suspects, but Prendes has done well to create an unexpected ending that is much more involved than I anticipated. I suspect however, that the focus for this book, being the first in a series, is to introduce the characters and set up their relationship and modus operandi.
I am looking forward to the next in the series because I think that, while this didn’t draw me in spectacularly well (as an adult reader), I’m interested to see how it will progress and I liked the diary-style format and the wry, oft-bemused narration of Watson. Also, in my opinion, there can’t be enough good detective stories for this age-group; mystery-solving is the spice of childhood life!
I recommend this one to lovers of mystery, intrigue and meddling kids! Oh, and to fans of Holmes and Watson who don’t mind a few cheeky twists on the original.
I should probably also point out that both of these books would fit nicely into the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge! The Thrax of course, is something unsightly (category seven), and The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon could slip in under wordplay in the title (category eight) or a book with someone’s name in the title (category four). Click on the image below to find out more and sign up for the challenge – we would love to meet some
fresh meat new players!
*I received a digital copy of The Curse of the Thrax from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. I received a digital copy of Elementary, My Dear Watson: The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, in exchange for an honest review*