Today’s Good/Sad/Quirky review candidate is an indie title featuring monsters, travellers, orphans, scrumping and more than a passing nod to classic British children’s literature. Received with thanks from the cheerful folk at Book Guild, I speak of The Monster Hunter by the mysterious and (dare I say?) dashing Kit Cox. So grab your finest monster-hunting hat and the monster-prodding implement of your choice and let us embark into the heady world of a classic adventure tale.
After his carefree life on Ceylon is interrupted in horrific fashion when his mother is killed by a monster, Benjamin Jackson Gaul finds himself on a slow boat to an orphanage in the Kentish countryside. Ben aims to settle in as best he can, given the frosty reception he receives from the other children, and things start looking up after the arrival of the enigmatic and kindly Nanny Belle. When some of the orphanage children fall sick due to what looks like poisoning, Ben senses that something isn’t right and attempts to investigate what may have befallen the children. What Ben stumbles across is like nothing he has seen before and he is determined to discover more about the creature that has the children in its thrall. On a particularly memorable investigative mission, Ben bumps into young traveller Rosalie, and together the two begin to unravel the mystery of monsters in their midst. With a little encouragement from Nanny Belle, Ben and Rosalie plunge headlong into the dangerous world of monster-hunting. But will they be up to the challenge when a monster from Ben’s past unexpectedly appears in the most unlikely of places?
If you’ve been ailing for a return to traditional childhood adventure tales then you will be very pleased to discover Kit Cox’s work in The Monster Hunter. We thoroughly enjoyed the real Britishness of the second half of the book, juxtaposed as it was with the earlier chapters set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) under British colonial rule. Keen-eyed readers of a certain age will probably also appreciate the significant tip of the hat to E. Nesbit’s classic children’s story Five Children and It that colours the first of Ben’s monster-hunting adventures. The writing really brought to life an atmosphere of menace during the last third of the story, once Ben and Rosalie discover the second, much more dangerous monster roving the countryside near their homes. The tale surrounding the appearance of this second monster is well-plotted and significantly raised the creep-factor for me. There’s a lot here to get one’s teeth into and as this is the first of a series, I’d be interested to see where Cox plans on taking the story.
The only thing that puzzled me slightly during this book was the occasional use of modern slang in the characters’ dialogue. There was an instance in which Rosalie invited Ben to “hang out”, for instance and while these didn’t bother me too much (and I suspect won’t bother young readers at all) it did leave me wondering why they had been included, given that this is historical fantasy fiction. As I put my mind to the task, it seemed to me that the adult characters appeared to use more traditional turns of phrase, whereas the younger characters were more likely to use modern dialogue. Perhaps Cox intended it as an accessibility thing for modern young readers, but as I know this can significantly irk some traditionalists I thought I’d mention it.
The quirkiest bit of this book was the inclusion of a field guide to the monsters that Ben and Rosalie are hunting, added as a sort of meta-narrative into Ben’s journey. These “non-fiction” references were great fun and certainly provided a change of pace to add interest to Ben’s stalled investigation. These sections are, I suspect, taken from or at the very least, mildly linked to Kit Cox’s other work, How to Bag a Jabberwock: A Practical Guide to Monster Hunting by Major Jack Union. Major Union only makes a short but significant appearance at the end of Ben’s adventures, but I like the way the two books are linked, providing keen readers with the option of a different, yet related reading experience while they wait for the second book in the series. We shelf-dwellers even think that we might have to bag this title for ourselves – you never know when the shelf may come under attack from hostile monster or monsters unknown. I have included here an image of the cover in case you too wish to seek it out – for your own protection, of course.
So there you have it – a classic tale of adventure and derring-do, wrapped in an accessible travelling cloak to suit the modern young reader. While this book will be enjoyed by both genders, this may be a good pick for a pre-All Hallow’s Eve read for the young gentlemen of your acquaintance.
Until next time,