Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that as far as historical fiction is concernedThis review first appeared on The Book Zone(For Boys) blog
Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that as far as historical fiction is concerned I have a penchant for the Tudor, Restoration and Victorian eras. You will also know that I totally love urban fantasy stories set in London. And it should go without saying that I am a sucker for well-written Middle Grade adventure stories. As I read the publisher's blurb for The Claws of Evil, I already knew that it was ticking most of my 'must read' boxes, and I was not to be disappointed in the slightest.
A lot of urban fantasy stories set in our capital city seem to revolve around ancient battles, and The Claws of Evil is no different. Below the grimy, cobbled streets of Victorian London dwell the Legion, the villains of the piece. The book opens with a member of the Legion's Council of Seven confidently proclaiming that "London will soon be ours", and it would appear that each of the Council's members has a different plan for the city, now that the final piece of their greatest weapon could soon be in their grasp.
Living above the city, constantly on the move across the rooftops, never sleeping in the same place two nights in a row, live the Watchers. They are the light that fights against the Legion's dark, and have been London's protectors for time immemorial. They are constantly vigilant as they perch on the precarious, sloping roofs, equipped with skyboots designed to give them precious grip as they race across the rooftops. The Watchers also believe in an ancient prophecy that foretells of one who will some day defeat the Legion, although that same prophecy also makes mention of the cost that this person may have to pay.
Enter our protagonist, Ben Kingdom. Like me, you will already be guessing that he is the One, the hero of the Ancient Prophecy of the Watchers. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, only time will tell. But he is a fantastic hero for this book - think the Artful Dodger, but with a moral compass. Ben only gets into trouble with the Law because he is a mischievous scallywag, and there is certainly never anything malicious about his actions. He lives in near-poverty conditions in the attic of a boarding house with his father and brother, and for reasons that become clear as the story progresses, he feels very little love from either of them. He is adventurous but naive, cocky and confident on the outside, but feeling unloved and lacking in self-belief on the inside. He is terrified of the so-called Weeping Man, a mysterious figure who is reported to be abducting the unwanted East End street kids, but digs deep to find extreme courage when he needs to. He is a character with which many 9+ readers will be able to identify.
As well as a great main character, in The Claws of Evil Andrew Beasley has created a host of colourful and exciting secondary characters, whether they be good or evil (or somewhere in between), human or mythological. Lucy Lambert, the scarfaced and fearless Watcher; Jago Moon, the blind man who sells Ben his much cherished Penny Dreadfuls; Professor James 'Claw' Carter, a man who thinks it is his destiny to rule the city, and is willing to work behind the backs of the Council to achieve his diabolical dream; Ruby Johnson, legionnaire and street thief, but could she be starting to see through the lies and depravity of her leaders? And there there is the Weeping Man himself, and opposites, the Feathered Men. Between them they add a soupçon of horror to the proceedings, that add to the sense of risk and adventure that encompass Ben as he is drawn into the ancient battle.
One of the stand out elements of the plot for me was Ben's confusion as to which side is good and which is evil. As I mentioned before, he is naive and quick to believe what he is told, especially if the teller is female and has a pretty face. His confusion is added to by the fact that some of the lead players in this ancient battle are people he has know for some years; people he has conversed with and trusted, leaving him with the ultimate dilemma - who should he trust? As such, readers will almost find themselves shouting "No, don't trust him, trust her", or vice versa. It is a story about choices, and how making the wrong one could lead to disaster for all. ...more
Derek Landy's brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series finally came to an end last year, but it looThis review first appeared on The Book Zone (For Boys)
Derek Landy's brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series finally came to an end last year, but it looks as if HarperCollins may have already struck kidlit gold again, this time in the form of Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty. The first book in a new series, Darkmouth is a hugely enjoyable and exciting read that is perfect for 9+ readers, and like his fellow countrymen Derek Landy and Eoin Colfer did before him, I fully expect Hegarty to take the world of children's books by storm based on his debut.
What is it about these Irish writers? What are they feeding them over there? I've mentioned two such luminaries already, but when you add the likes of John Boyne, Darren Shan and Michael Scott to the list then I would not be surprised if UK publishers had agents scouring the Emerald Isle in search of the next big talent. All of them have produced books that have been popular with critics and readers of all ages, and I think the Darkmouth series will be included in this list in years to come. Hegarty's book has the wit and sparkling dialogue of Landy and the cleverness of Colfer's Artemis Fowl series. Throw in the ordinary kid in an extraordinary situation set-up seen in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, and you will have a good idea of what to expect (yes, I know that RR is not Irish, but the parallels are there).
The town of Darkmouth is the last of the 'Blighted Villages', places where the veil between our world and the world of myths and legends is particularly thin. Over the centuries monsters and men shared the earth, and then fought battles for it before the monsters, or Legends as they are known herein, were banished to their own dimension. The barrier between worlds is still rather flimsy in Darkmouth, and as such the village retains its Legend Hunter, a man tasked with capturing any of the beasties who manage to cross into our world.
The hero of this book, Finn, is the son of this last remaining Legend Hunter, and as such it is destiny to one day take on this mantle and himself become the last remaining Legend Hunter. The only problem is Finn is pretty crap when it comes to monster hunting. He's very much like I was at school (and still to this day) when it comes to sports - tries hard but is destined to be forever languishing in the bottom league. However, his pushy father expects the best of him, and struggles to hide his disappointment when Finn's efforts invariably fall short of perfection. Add to the the danger of having to hunt the likes of the Minotaur shown below and it's easy to see that Finn's lot is not a happy one.
Unfortunately for Finn there is a plot afoot, and the leader of the Legends is planning to invade Darkmouth and then the rest of our world with his monstrous horde. So begins an exciting and fast-paced story that twists and turns, as Finn meets other characters who may not be exactly who they seem, with crosses and doublecrosses, and deep, dark family secrets itching to be discovered.
Hegarty's writing is complemented wonderfully by the amazing illustrations of James de la Rue, who also illustrated the book's cover. Seriously, just how good is that Minotaur drawing? I know that some people feel that kids should be allowed to use their imaginations, but I really do wish that more books for the 9+ age group had illustrations, especially those in the fantasy and horror genres. I can't believe that any readers of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's Edge Chronicles books have complained that their imaginations are being stifled by Riddell's fantastic illustrations and I would love to see more publishers splash out on illustrators for their authors' books.
Darkmouth is a cracking coming-of-age story with a wonderful fantasy concept as its foundation and I for one cannot wait until the sequel, Worlds Explode, is published in July. My thanks go to the wonderful people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to read and review....more