It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club. The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage!
Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?
The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.
Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!
In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves. So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures. Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit. It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things. Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.
There are no dragons in this book. There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them. There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits. I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit. Maybe. But not Shylo.
I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too. And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them. I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother. He’s a meanie. Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.
That would teach him.
Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?
A red-pawed rabbit I can see!
Do you think he’ll play with me?
He looks as if he’s too busy!
Where’s he gone so hurriedly?
To save the Queen for you and me!
Please excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done. The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape. Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact. Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.
When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot. The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city. After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.
Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up. The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life. Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces. There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.
The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows. The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.
The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017. Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!
Until next time,
Bruce (and the gang)