Double Dip Review Week #4: Fantasy Fiction…

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imageWelcome to our final, filling portion of Double-Dip Review Week!  To finish off I have two fantasy novels for the grown ups that I received from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s dispense with pleasantries and just dive right into dessert!

First up we have Domnall and the Borrowed Child by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The best and bravest faeries fell in the war against the Sluagh, and now the Council is packed with idiots and cowards. Domnall is old, aching, and as cranky as they come, but as much as he’d like to retire, he’s the best scout the Sithein court has left.

When a fae child falls deathly ill, Domnall knows he’s the only one who can get her the medicine she needs: Mother’s milk. The old scout will face cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep, to say nothing of his fellow fae!

Dip into it for…

domnall and the borrowed child…a traditional fae tale that reads like a contemporary novel!  Domnall and the Borrowed Child is a quick read that cuts straight to the action and the reader is never left hanging, wondering what’s going to happen next.  The plot moves apace from the initial trouble – the sick fae child – toward Domnall’s blue-tak and seat-of-your-pants rescue efforts.  For some reason I expected that this would be a far more complex tale, with lots of world-building and conflict between characters, but it turned out to be a straightforward focus on Domnall and his travails.  I actually found this to be preferable, because sometimes you’re just in the mood for a simple story that doesn’t require you to memorise various aspects and characters in a mythical world.  There’s plenty of situational humour here to move things along and I really enjoyed the un-fussy execution of what turned out to be a micro-romp through the problems of being an old faerie in a new world.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a complex story with lots of descriptive world-building.  While complex stories with descriptive world-building have their place, this one focuses more on Domnall as a character and his small world.

Overall Dip Factor

While I did expect this to be longer and more involved, I was perfectly satisfied with what I actually got when reading this story.  Domnall is a loveable old rogue, much put upon by the female members of his tribe, and his heart is in the right place.  There’s a bit of slapstick-type humour to go along with the danger and time-running-out factor and the ending left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling and the thought that I’d be happy to return to Domnall and his world if any of his subsequent adventures end up being written down.  Plus, I’ve also only just noticed that Ishbelle Bee has written a positive review on the front cover, so that’s a recommendation in itself!

Next up, I have an offering from Curiosity Quills featuring gods and monsters galore: Homunculus and the Cat by Nathan Croft.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Homunculus and the Cat – Just a typical kitten saves the afterlife story, disguised as a book about death.

In a world where every culture’s mythology is real, Medusa’s sisters want revenge on Poseidon, Troy is under siege again, and the Yakuza want their homunculi (mythological artificial humans) back. Near Atlantis’ Chinatown, a kitten and her human campaign for homunculi rights. Against them are Japanese death gods, an underworld cult, and a fat Atlantean bureaucrat.

The main character dies (more than once) and a few underworlds’ way of death is threatened. Also with giant armored battle squids.

Dip into it for…  homunculus and the cat

…an adventure tale that features gods, monsters, homicidal Japanese death spirits, mythical creatures and cats. Flying cats.  There’s a lot of action in this one with an ending featuring a battle that can only be described as “epic”.  The cat of the title is certainly a likeable and original character and the focus on homunculi rights early on in the book is interesting.  This will be a hit with those who like their mythologies well and truly mashed up.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking or a tale with a recognisable mythical world.  The world Croft has created here draws on a lot of different mythologies and seems wholly original.  The downside to that is that in the early chapters, there isn’t a great deal of explanation as to how the various factions interact.

Overall Dip Factor

All in all, this is a satisfyingly humour-filled adventure romp that oozes originality.  You can imagine all the shenanigans that may occur when you have one protagonist with nine lives (and a penchant for giving the forks whether its warranted or not) and a second with no soul but a whole lot of heart.  Add to that war, arson and general political point-scoring and you’ll have a pretty good idea about whether or not this one is for you.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Unhappenings Review Tour…

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Welcome to my stop on the Review Tour for new release, time travel, sci-fi, adventure novel Unhappenings by Edward Aubrey.  Make yourself at home!  This tidy and complex little number is published by Curiosity Quills, from whom I received a copy of this book.

Feast your eyes on this gorgeous cover:

unhappenings coverIsn’t it beautiful? But of course, judging a book only by its cover would just be silly *cough*, so here is some further information to entice you:

When Nigel Walden is fourteen, the UNHAPPENINGS begin. His first girlfriend disappears the day after their first kiss with no indication she ever existed. This retroactive change is the first of many only he seems to notice.

Several years later, when Nigel is visited by two people from his future, he hopes they can explain why the past keeps rewriting itself around him. But the enigmatic young guide shares very little, and the haggard, incoherent, elderly version of himself is even less reliable. His search for answers takes him fifty-two years forward in time, where he finds himself stranded and alone.

And then he meets Helen.

Brilliant, hilarious and beautiful, she captivates him. But Nigel’s relationships always unhappen, and if they get close it could be fatal for her. Worse, according to the young guide, just by entering Helen’s life, Nigel has already set into motion events that will have catastrophic consequences. In his efforts to reverse this, and to find a way to remain with Helen, he discovers the disturbing truth about the unhappenings, and the role he and his future self have played all along.

Equal parts time-travel adventure and tragic love story, Unhappenings is a tale of gravely bad choices, and Nigel’s struggle not to become what he sees in the preview of his worst self.

And of course you’re now wondering what kind of finely-tuned, creative, literary mind could conjure such an audacious story, and so here is some information about Mr. Aubrey himself:

Edward Aubry is a graduate of Wesleyan University, with a degree in music composition. edward aubrey unhappenings tour Improbably, this preceded a career as a teacher of high school mathematics and creative writing.

Over the last few years, he has gradually transitioned from being a teacher who writes novels on the side to a novelist who teaches to support his family. He is also a poet, his sole published work in that form being the sixteen stanza “The History of Mathematics.”

He now lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife and three spectacular daughters, where he fills his non-teaching hours spinning tales of time-travel, wise-cracking pixies, and an assortment of other impossible things.

Find Edward Aubry Online:

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

And ultimately, of course, you are waiting to hear what I thought of the book.  Well, wait no longer, weary traveller, for I shall now metaphorically spill the metaphorical beans on this very intriguing take on time travel and its consequences.

I haven’t read a good time-travel yarn in quite a while – I think the last one was Backward Glass and that was ages and ages ago (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that being the last one) [*update* I just checked my records and I’ve read at least four time travel jaunts since Backward Glass…obviously they didn’t leave much of an impression...] – so I was most pleased to jump back into one of my favourite sub-genres of science fiction.

Unhappenings is a highly original take on the well-trodden time travel path, and has a much greater focus on the consequences for human relationships from meddling with time than any other story I’ve read in the genre.  The book begins with Nigel recounting his early experiences with the mysterious and confusing unhappenings that occured at random intervals throughout his teenage years.  Essentially, Nigel began to notice that time seemed to move differently for him than for most people – he’d mention conversations or experiences that none of the other people involved seemed to remember, his teachers would suddenly disappear, alter or reappear without so much as a passing comment from his classmates, and in the most severe instances, people he became close to were retroactively wiped from existence.

This was a really intriguing premise and I fell right into the story as Nigel recounts the major incidents of these early unhappenings and reflects on the patterns he felt were forming at the time.  Of course, as the story is narrated by a much older Nigel, the reader is privy to a few extra intriguing tidbits that poor old teen Nigel is not.  This added to the puzzle solving element of the story for me and of course I became enthralled in trying to figure out what was going on before it was revealed.

This, however, turned out to be nigh on impossible.

The story is set out in parts, with each part relating to a different person in Nigel’s sphere of reference.  The early part is dedicated to Nigel’s experiences with a mysterious girl who appears at certain points in Nigel’s journey and gives him little to no information about what’s going on – except the fact that she too experiences these unhappenings.

Actually, before I get sucked into explaining the different characters and so forth, I’m going to abandon the attempt because I don’t think it’s the best way to describe the experience of reading Unhappenings.

If you are a fan of sci-fi, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you are a fan of stories featuring time travel, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you enjoy a book with a strong premise that is executed with precision and skill, you will definitely enjoy this book.  This is a story with a lot going on, both action-wise and relationship-wise, and there is plenty of bang for your buck with over 100 pretty meaty chapters.

Aubrey has done a stellar job at creating an original take on time travel that is highly complex, and best of all, he doesn’t let the mechanics of it all get away from him.  There are multiple time-streams in play here and Aubrey masterfully controls each and every one, so there are no points at which I was forced to go, “HEY! That couldn’t have happened because *insert plot hole here*”.  By the end of this mind-bendingly extensive tale, I was perfectly content that I had just experienced a fresh and daring take on an old favourite theme.

Overall, I was really impressed with this offering, and I suspect that Aubrey will pop onto a whole bunch of “one to watch” lists for those who are introduced to him through Unhappenings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An MG Ghostly Haiku Review: Remembering Kaylee Cooper…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for a poetical look at a new release middle grade ghostly tale from Curiosity Quills – Remembering Kaylee Cooper by Christopher Francis.  I only discovered after finishing the book that the author hails from my very own city of residence, so I had a moment of imagined comeraderie that he too was experiencing the ridiculous temperatures Brisbane turned on especially for the G20 summit…then I noticed that he no longer lives in Australia, so I silently cursed him for not sharing the ridiculous temperatures Brisbane turned on for the G20 summit.  But weather gripes aside, let us examine Remembering Kaylee Cooper.

From Goodreads:

Kaylee Cooper is certain that Alex will become friends with a ghost this year. Alex thinks that he is far too old to be listening to a first grader and encourages Kaylee to stop jeopardizing his important sixth grade social life. Kaylee doesn’t listen and finds awkward ways to spend as much time with Alex as possible, even if it means following him into the boy’s washroom.

Fed up, Alex develops a strategic plan to ultimately help him get rid of Kaylee Cooper for good.

However, he soon learns about the mysterious legend of Screaming Ridge that pulls an unlikely group of friends together, including the girl of his dreams, and the school’s meanest bully. When they discover that the legend is real, and that Kaylee Cooper is at the core of the mystery, Alex stares death in the face and helps save her from an eternal life of misery and confusion.

remembering kaylee cooper

Wouldn’t be seen dead

Hanging with a first-grade girl

Maybe vice versa 

Oh the mixed feelings about this book!  This is a quick, middle grade ghost story that is pitched at the perfect level for a young audience. There is just enough creepiness to satisfy those who enjoy a scare and just enough mystery for those who like a puzzle. Alex is a likeable protagonist and there is a palpable sense of comaraderie that develops between Alex’s classmates as the story progresses and the mystery deepens, which I particularly enjoyed.  It gave the story a bit of life and energy and opened up a sense of adventure.  The ghostly elements vary between being a bit predictable and hiding some unexpected twists and by the end I felt like everything had been wrapped up in a neat little package.  Depending on whether you enjoy your ghost stories with loose ends tied up, this will be satisfying or not so much.  I suspect though that middle grade readers will appreciate the resolution to the various puzzles that are presented in the story.

There was one inexplicable element to this tale that drove me nuts while I was reading and disrupted my ability to remain in the story world.   For some strange reason, the author has given ridiculous surnames to all the teachers in the story, and alliterative names to most of the kids (but not all). The teachers were called Stoolpigeon, Humblewick, Allthumbs and Monobrow….really? Monobrow? The kids were called Damian Dermite, Madelyn Mayfeather, Henry Horkenminder…Why? For me, the use of unlikely names just gave the characters a silly, cartoonish feel when the plot seems to be aiming for an atmosphere of mystery and slight danger.   This really affected my overall enjoyment of the book and I wish it hadn’t been the case.

This next bit is a bit spoilery, so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled!!

Another small niggle I had with the plot was the fact that Kaylee was supposed to have died in 1962, having been born in 1954. Why then, I wondered, was she described by more than one character as as being dressed as if she lived 100 years ago, in long dresses and leather boots with long stockings? This bit didn’t tally for me and as I’m a pedantic sort of a reader, caused me to be mildly cranky with the whole book.

Spoilery bit over – normal service resuming….NOW!

Putting aside my minor irritations, this is a solid ghost story that should appeal to fans of middle grade mystery of your acquaintance. There are a few elements in the plot that are fairly predictable, but also a few that come completely out of left field and add to the puzzle that Alex and his friends are trying to solve. Pick this one up if you’re looking for a light, fun read with a spooky twist.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

Billy Lovecraft Saves the World: Blog Tour GSQ Review!

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billy lovecraft banner

Well in case the enormous banner just above these words didn’t get your attention, allow me to alert you to the fact that you have arrived at my stop on the Blog Tour for middle grade, sci-fi horror tale Billy Lovecraft Saves the World which will be released into the greater populace by Curiosity Quills tomorrow.  This tale is not for the faint-hearted by any means, but if you are stout-of-heart and prepared to jump into a classic world of Lovecraftian alien adventure (previous experience not required), then read on! I thought that, given the bizarre nature of Lovecraft’s work (both Billy’s and HP’s) it would only be appropriate to pull out the psyche-triplets and deliver a GSQ review.  Enjoy!

billy lovecraft cover

Goodreads | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

The last thing Billy Lovecraft’s parents sent him before the crash was a photo of something on the wing of their plane.

Now he’s stuck with a horrible and heart-breaking mystery: What was that awful creature, and why were his parents targeted?

It’s up to Billy to gather a team of like-minded kids and lead them through a dark new reality where the monsters are real, not everyone is who they seem to be, and an ancient alien wants to devour the world.

billy lovecraft

About The Author:

Billy Lovecraft is the young leader of the Cthulhu Detective Squad, which he formed after the death of his parents when he was twelve. He is a writer, scientist, occult scholar, and frequent savior of the world. The things in his basement will give you nightmares.

Find Billy Lovecraft Online:

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Now onto the review….

image

imageThe Good

Right off the bat I can say that this book will be every early-teen male sci-fi/horror/adventure enthusiasts’ dream.  Not to discount the ladies who also enjoy a walk on the terrifying and bizarre side, but this book called out to me in a voice that said, “I will appeal to reluctant male readers – place me in their clammy hands!”

Leaving the Lovecraftian elements aside for a moment (Quirky will get to those in a moment), the story has fights, guns, bullies, scary aliens, helpful aliens, magic, evil cultists, evil principals, danger, slimy glob creatures and angry vengeful gods from outer space.  Add to that some solid friendship and leadership threads and  the back-and-forth cheeky banter of a group of young lads and you’ve got all the makings of a coming-of-age tale that will surely engage even the most book-adverse teen male.

The plot runs along at a quick pace throughout with a few spikes of extreme alien-whacking action.  The climax, which involves Billy and his group, the Cthulu Detective Squad, in a pitched battle against some local evil adversaries who are attempting to summon a planet-eating demon-god in order for it to…well…eat the planet, is fast and frenetic and a fitting end to such a complex lead-up.

Admittedly, I have not read any of HP Lovecraft’s classic works – I am familiar with them only through internet memes and pop culture references so therefore my knowledge is slim, but it certainly appears as though Billy Lovecraft is well in the know about The Writer and has attempted to use HP Lovecraft’s creations faithfully.  But as I said, with no real background knowledge of the original Lovecraft, I may have to leave it to the traditionalists to comment more fully in that area.

imageThe Sad

I feel I have to say that while I was reading this book, I had to constantly remind myself to suspend my disbelief.  Not with regard to the aliens but with regard to the fact that Billy is only supposed to be twelve years old.  One of the members of the Cthulhu detective squad is only ten.  It seemed to me that this was a bizarrely young age to choose for a protagonist in such a complicated story.  Even though this is tagged as a middle-grade novel, I think it would have to be a pretty advanced middle grade reader who would appreciate the nuance in both the sci-fi elements and the general action-packed plot.  In my opinion, I’d be putting this one squarely in the 13-15 years age bracket, as I think anyone younger than that would have trouble with the more grown-up themes in the book.

I also was mildly disappointed that there is only a token girl in the Detective Squad.  While she plays a reasonably large role in befriending Billy, the only other girl in the story was the (unashamedly scene-stealing) Cthulittle, a squidish, danger-detecting pet.  It was only a mild disappointment, as this story reeks of maleness and boy-men forming a tribe and fighting against other men (in a positive sense, you understand) but I thought I should mention it.  Oh, actually, there is another girl (lady) in the story – but she dies an alien-related death about halfway through, and as she was involved in summoning alien monsters in the first place, some might argue that she had it coming.

imageThe Quirky

If you, like me, are only vaguely familiar with the works of HP Lovecraft, then this story is going to be an eye-popping, mind-expanding, sci-fi experience.  I think it’s safe to say that it’s pretty well out of left field to base a book for young readers on works of such deeply imagined classic horror.  It did take me a little time in the beginning to sort the world-devourers from the reasonably harmless moonstone-gatherers and so forth, but there is a wealth of information about Lovecraft’s classic creatures that is deftly woven into the characters’ dialogue. 

Again, I’m not sure how humour-filled the original works are (although I’m guessing not much), the author has done a great job here of including plenty of age-authentic humour and antics that mitigate the somewhat terrifying elements of evil cultists, mind controlling nether gods and imminent death from monsters oozing out of the plumbing. 

All up, this was at once an intense and exciting reading experience.  There was a lot here that had me questioning whether I would be giving this book to an eleven or twelve year old, but as an older reader I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the tale was complex, compelling and laced with dry comedy.  I predict that this is going to be the sort of book that develops a niche audience – it certainly won’t be for every young reader, but for those who are drawn to the story, it could certainly be a launching point into classic sci-fi and horror writings and a gateway into strange new worlds.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Rump and Stiltskin: Fairy Tale Retellings for Young and Old(ish)…

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imageWelcome to another exciting episode of my Fairy Tale Makeovers review series!  Today I have two retellings of the same fairy tale – Rumpelstiltskin –  he with the penchant baby thievery and silly name-guessing games.

One of the retellings is a middle grade read full of adventure, laughs and a fresh, complex new take on the traditional Rumpelstiltskin tale, and the other is an adult fiction novel full of adventure, laughs and….well, you get the idea.  Let’s begin with the middle grade offering, shall we?

rumpRump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Liesl Shurtliff

The Tome:

In Rump’s world, your name is your destiny.  Unfortunately, Rump’s mother died before she could get his full name out and so he has been stuck as the butt of many jokes ever since.  After accidentally finding out he possesses the ability to spin straw into gold, and then accidentally dooming the (greedy, selfish) miller’s (vacuous, unreasonable) daughter Opal to a life spent spinning gold for the king, Rump knows that he must step in to make things right.  But things take a turn for the (much, much) worse when Opal accidentally promises Rump her first-born son in return for his spinning.

Now, stuck with a magical ability he doesn’t want, a pre-emptive baby that he certainly doesn’t need, and a donkey that’s good for Nothing, Rump must use all his wits to overcome his expected destiny at the bottom rung of the social ladder.  With the help of his friend Red, some very unusual trolls and the power within himself, Rump might just be able to untangle this knotty dilemma…but he may have to fly by the seat of his pants to do it.

Why You Should Read It:

Shurtliff has done a great job here in creating complex, neatly interwoven plot threads that slowly build into a well thought out and satisfying narrative.  There’s a lot of humour in both the characters and the situation, and some fun new twists on the traditional tale.  I expecially enjoyed the trolls and their cheeky ploy to remain out of the way of humans.  All the elements of the original tale are here (except, possibly, the more violent bits) but they’ve been used in clever, creative ways to put the focus back onto Rump and how he will fulfill his destiny.

Makeover Point of Difference:

The main point of view here is Rump’s, and he’s a really likeable character.  With Rump leading the narration, this book will certainly be a hit with middle grade-aged kids looking for a familiar(ish) tale of magic with lots of humour to lighten things up.

And now for the grown ups….

StiltskinStiltskin

Andrew Buckley

The Tome:

Don’t let the rubber duck on his head fool you, Rumpelstiltskin is one cranky, murderous, rabbit-stabbing dwarf.  After escaping from The Tower in Thiside (the place where all the fairy tale mob live) with the help of the (clearly mad) Mad Hatter, Rumpelstiltskin immediately sets off to pass on a message to the unsuspecting Robert Darkly in Othaside (the place where us mob live).  On unexpectedly discovering said murderous dwarf in his bathtub, Robert is clearly somewhat distressed to discover that his world is about to get a damn sight weirder (and more dangerous).  And all this on the day that his girlfriend dumps him and he loses his job.

Luckily for Robert, he is immediately taken under the (metaphorical) wing of Lily (of the Agency) and introduced to the White Rabbit.  Along with a number of other (hitherto mythical) creatures, Lily and Robert must set out after Rumpelstiltskin and foil his dastardly plan before any more fluffy bunnies succumb to the unforgiving steel of his blade.  But what Lily and Robert are about to find out is that the Dwarf’s plan may go deeper than any of them had ever expected…

Why You Should Read It:

We love a bit of silliness around the shelf and this book has silliness in bucketloads.  Not just silliness though, oh no.  There’s a fair bit of violence towards sweet defenceless fairy tale creatures.  There’s warrior gnomes and random facts about the mechanics of sex between fairies.  There’s a smidgeon of old-ladies being subjected to hallucinatory shifts in reality. Really, there’s something for everyone over the age of eighteen to be found here, and a lot of it is pretty funny.  Buckley maintains a light, humorous tone throughout and there are many little asides that are designed to throw out your train of thought and give you an unsought-after giggle.  Rumpelstiltskin is suitably evil and the Mad Hatter is appropriately devious and conniving.  Robert is adorably clueless and the White Rabbit imposing in his managerial capacity.  Overall, it’s just a good, fun romp and you should probably give it a go if you’re into retellings. Or even if you’re not.

Makeover Point of Difference:

Once again, it feels like the familiar fairy tale character that we know and love (to hate), but there’s a strange and beguiling Urban Fantasy twist going on that reminded me of books like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and Un Lun Dun by China Mieville but with a lighter tone.  It’s got an atmosphere all its own though and I’d like to see what other delights Buckley has/will come up with.

So there you have it.  Two takes on the famous Rumpelstiltskin, Esq.  I’d love to know about any other Rumpelstiltskin retellings out there because I’ve grown quite fond of the repugnant/redeemable little guy.

Until next time,
Bruce

*I received a digital copy of Stiltskin from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, in return for an honest review.

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Double Dragon: Two New Release Books for Boys…(and girls who like boyish stuff)…

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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.

thraxIf 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 Ancient DragonAdventure 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!

imageUntil next time,

Bruce

*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*

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