Magrit: An MG Good, Sad and Quirky Review…

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Today’s review nearly ended up being a “Great Expectations…” review because my level of expectation for today’s book was impossibly high, but I have decided to unleash my psyche on you instead.  Magrit by Lee Battersby (author of such bizarre adult fiction favourites of the shelf as The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead) is a middle grade, beautifully presented foray into a graveyard full of surprises.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet, whom she built from bones and bits of graveyard junk. One night as Magrit and Master Puppet sit atop of their crumbling chapel, a passing stork drops a baby into the graveyard. Defying Master Puppet’s demands that the baby be disposed of, and taking no heed of his dire warnings, Magrit decides to raise the baby herself. She gives him a name: Bugrat. Magrit loves Bugrat like a brother But Master Puppet know all too well what will happen when Bugrat grows up – that the truth about them all will be revealed.

magrit

The Good:image

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and have wished that there existed a book very like it, but suited to a younger audience, Lee Battersby has fulfilled that wish in Magrit.  The book is set in a beautifully atmospheric cemetery, wherein the inhabitants lie forgotten and a self-contained, private sanctuary has been chiseled out of the silence.  Magrit is an easy character to follow along with; a carefree nearly-ten year old, whose imagination is fed to bursting by her mouldering home and her questions answered by the all-seeing Master Puppet.  Master Puppet is a great, original character, I must say – a skeleton patched together from various discarded bones and lashed to the cross atop the cemetery’s chapel, dispensing wisdom and criticism in a voice that is practically audible while you read.  The plot is easy to follow for young readers, and while adult readers (and indeed, canny youngsters) may pick up on which way the wind is blowing reasonably early in the story, the ending is unexpected and satisfactorily ambiguous.

The Sad image

If you have not read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, then this criticism will pass you by and not affect your reading of Magrit at all.  If this is the case for you, I am truly happy that you have yet to discover the magic of both of these wonderful books.  The only problem I had with this story is that it felt far too much like The Graveyard Book.  So much so, in fact, that I felt like Bod and Magrit could have easily lived in Bod’s graveyard at the same time, with Magrit’s corner cordoned off in some way so that the two never got around to meeting.  The reason this was a problem is that because I read The Graveyard Book years ago on its original release (our dust-jacketed, hardbacked edition has pride of place on our shelf, with only slight paper-specklage after eight years), and have since re-read it multiple times, Bod, Silas and the gang have taken up residence in my brain as the superior graveyard-dwelling crew.  Again though, if you haven’t read The Graveyard Book, you should find Magrit and Master Puppet entirely original and thoroughly unique.

I would also have loved to have seen a bit of the quirky, bizarre humour that Battersby inserts into his adult fiction works make its way into Magrit’s story.

The Quirkyimage

The presentation, both inside and out, of this first edition of Magrit is something else entirely.  For a start, the textured hardback cover fits neatly in your hand and the raw edges of the pages are tinged an inviting pale purple.  The beautiful papercut illustration on the front sets the tone for the gorgeous reading experience awaiting you.  The pages inside are bordered in similar papercut designs and Master Puppet’s dialogue is always printed in a spectacularly eye-popping font, which is both a handy visual cue for younger readers and serves to enhance that unique character voice that I mentioned earlier.  Overall, there has been a great deal of consideration put into the visual presentation of this book and it greatly enhances the reading experience.  I can just imagine the coveting that will go on amongst mini-fleshlings when this one hits the school library shelves!

I also loved that Battersby references Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead in his acknowledgements.  This is a reasonably large and dense non-fiction tome that I checked out of the library years ago, before I started blogging, as part of my attempt to read all the death-related things.  I just like the idea that other people have read a reasonably obscure book that I randomly checked out of the library many years ago.

Overall, I am so glad I pre-ordered this one and didn’t wait around on the off-chance that I would get the opportunity to get a free review copy.  This is definitely a book that you won’t regret purchasing and displaying in a prominent place on your shelf to amaze your friends and confuse and dismay your enemies.

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

 

 

Read it if: The Marching Dead….

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Today, unusually, I’m bringing you a Read-it-if review for a sequel.  The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby is the follow up tome to the quirky and creatively titled The Corpse-Rat King.  You’ll remember of course that in the first book, the irrepressible Marius don Hellespont was mistaken for the King of the Dead while looting the corpses of soldiers post-battle (a simple mistake to make, I’m sure you’ll agree) and was forced to set out on a quest to find the dead a real king.

In this book, Marius and his fellow flesh-folk find that their dearly departed have…well…departed… from their cosy home in the soil for reasons unknown.  Enter Marius’ simple mountain-lad mate Gerd (deceased) and Gerd’s potty-mouthed Granny (also deceased), and a now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t cat and you have a questing party worth hitching your (deceased) horse and cart to.  The story follows Marius and co. in their efforts to figure out where the dead have got to and what they plan to do when they get there.

marching dead

Read it if:

* you’ve read The Corpse-Rat King, or you’re looking for something that doesn’t take itself too seriously

* you are a boy aged 16 to pre-deceased

* you enjoy a bit of jollity and good clean fun in your fantasy tales

* your idea of jollity and good clean fun includes swearing, debauchery, general bastardry, frisky warrior nuns, potty mouthed grannies and a fancy headband made out of an animated corpse’s nether regions

Although this is a sequel, I’m sure that it could be enjoyed and followed fairly easily for those who haven’t read The Corpse-Rat King. Having said that though, the first book is a fun, cheeky read in itself and is definitely worth a look, particularly if you enjoy fantasy tales and would like something that is pitched entirely at (immature) adults.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

The Corpse-Rat King…a memorable romp through death, disaster and destiny

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[Marius]..”stepped away from the hull and found a small rise where he could lay back and knit his hands behind his head, and pretend he was lying in a field somewhere to rest off a particularly good drink, instead of waiting at the bottom of the ocean for an insane centaur with delusions of grandeur to finish beating up a ship full of nothing.” p 276

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had been waiting patiently for this book to land on my shelf for a good long while, my shelf’s owner having pre-ordered it well before the publication date based simply on the intriguing title alone.  The corpse-rat of the title refers to one Marius don Hellespont, who makes his living by trawling corpses found on battlefields and relieving them of valuables that have become superfluous to their owner’s current station.  It is on one of these sojourns that Marius is mistaken for a corpse and accompanied to the land of the dead, where he is promptly tasked with finding a dead king to rule over the domain of the dear departed.

Cue death, disaster and finally, destiny, as Marius does his level best to escape both the pesky dead and their pesky task while his body passes through varying states of decomposition.

I must admit that this gargoyle took a while to warm to this book, as the character of Marius is not altogether a likeable fellow – at least early on.  The further I ventured with him though, the more he grew on me and by the halfway point, I found myself snatching snippets of time to plunge back into the story.

The book did not carry the tone that I imagined it might on reading the blurb.  I was expecting something along the lines of Yahtzee Croshaw’s “Mogworld”, which also contains an undead hero, initially out for number one, whose only aim is to escape his current predicament by either (a) dying properly, or (b) returning to life.  The Corpse-Rat King, however, was not, for the most part, light-hearted and the humour was far less flippant than in Croshaw’s tome.  This I initially considered to be a negative aspect, but after finishing it, I am of the opinion that this book contains a much deeper story than Croshaw’s, and one which has been well-crafted to engage the reader beyond the amusing premise promised by the blurb.  Certainly by the halfway point, the tone has lightened and the final chapters are replete with the cheerful calamity that one would expect of a group of protagonists that include two people in various states of undeath and a  7-foot tall royal skeleton.

The Corpse-Rat King is definitely worth a look in my opinion, not least because it is published by Angry Robot Books, who are fast becoming one of my “go-to” publishers when I am in need of a fresh take on sci-fi or fantasy.

Speaking of sci-fi and fantasy, as an end note, I have very recently become aware that the fifth book in the “Power of Five” series by Anthony Horowitz, “Oblivion” is due for release in the next month.  I am utterly excited about this as it has been such a long gap between books four and five that I began to believe that I had hallucinated the idea of a fifth book, and that the story did really end with number four, but I somehow missed it.  Stay tuned for a review of this one in the future.

Until next time,

Bruce

Ah, I see you’ve arrived! Come in, make yourself comfortable. Tea?

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I have begun this web log, or “blog” as the young folk call it, in order to give voice to the oft-overlooked expert opinion inherent to my kind – the bookshelf gargoyle. I will use this (cyber) space to present to you my musings on all things related to books and their ilk. In doing so, I hope to achieve a certain immortality beyond the kind that I already possess as a piece of (handsomely) chiselled stone.

As a bookshelf gargoyle, much of my work involves being in close proximity to the printed word. In fact, one might say that my livelihood depends upon it. Thus, it was with great dismay that I happened upon a recent technological advancement that has the potential to render my kind obsolete. I refer of course, to that most subversive of contraptions: the e-reader.

In reflecting on the potentially lethal ramifications this device may pose to my kind, I present to you a list of 4 reasons why the e-reader will never replace the humble book.

1. Books provide an invaluable contribution to the world of medicine that is unmatched by their electronic cousins. It is impossible, for example, to burst a cyst by whacking it with the online edition of the King James Bible.

2. Printed books provide balance and stability in a way that e-books can’t. I have yet to spy an e-reader propping up the errant leg of a lopsided table.

3. In contrast to an e-book, the printed word is imbued with a sense of passion and gravity that reflects its lofty position in human culture. Therefore, one would not think twice about tossing a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Volume 10: Garrison to Halibut) from a high place onto the unsuspecting head of an objectionable suitor standing below. This would be unthinkable with an e-reader. One might damage the screen.

4. Books provide important social clues to the keen-eyed observer that would be otherwise inaccessible were the subject reading an e-book.  For instance, consider  a highly attractive individual of the opposite sex, casually scrolling through their e-book in a public setting.  Before approaching said individual, it would be handy to know whether they were perusing “Pride and Prejudice” or “Cooking with Kittens: From Pet Shop to Plate in Under 30 Minutes”.

I hope it is obvious from these considered reflections that the printed word has an inviolable place in the world of reading.  Long may it prosper!

And on that note, it appears I have chosen an auspicious day for the beginning of my intellectual toil – a copy of The Corpse Rat King by one Lee Battersby has appeared on the shelf. I look forward to discovering whether Mr. Battersby’s skills extend beyond the selection of intriguing titles.

Until next time,

Bruce