Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Silver Arrow – Lev Grossman

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Bloomsbury

September 2020

ISBN 9781526629418

RRP: AU $14.99 NZ $16.99

In my opinion it’s a rare middle-age novel that can transcend reading interests, age groups and genders but this is most definitely one that can. Certainly your middle grade readers will love it but it is just as appealing for older readers, including adults, as well as competent younger readers with its blend of whimsy and fantasy, strong conservation theme, friendship and family, humour and adventure.

Kate’s wealthy estranged uncle is considered ridiculously eccentric and irresponsible by her parents and really she knows very little about him. Certainly when she writes to him on a whim and asks for a birthday present she doesn’t expect to receive one. She definitely doesn’t expect the gift of a full-sized steam locomotive which appears in her back garden.

While her parents wrangle over what to do with such an unwanted and cumbersome gift, Kate and her younger brother Tom ignore parental doubts and distrust and board the engine in the middle of the night. The journey that ensues is both a revelation and a test of the children’s resilience, initiative and bravery.

To their complete astonishment the locomotive takes off through the night and guided by the engine’s own ‘voice’ they soon arrive at a station where a curious assortment of animal passengers wait patiently with valid tickets to board. The children do not take long to realise that their job is to ensure that each of these creatures, endangered due to various impacts on their natural habitats, are safely delivered to new homes where they can have some certainty of survival of their species. From the sweetest baby pangolin to a very cantankerous porcupine, a beautiful mamba to a sad and lost half-starved polar bear, the Silver Arrow has a mission – one that is filled with moments of danger and near-misses but ultimately the trip of a lifetime for all.

Readers will be thrilled by the excitement of the adventure and adore the laughs to be had but will also learn a great deal about the plight of many of the world’s most threatened animals. Like Kate and Tom, one might hope that they will also take action to do what they can to preserve and conserve the wonders of nature against loss of habitat, introduced invasive species and of course, humans.

I cannot recommend this highly enough for your readers from around 7 or 8 years upwards. It is both a joy and an inspiration and, in my opinion, destined to become a modern classic.

The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde

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Hachette

JUN 30, 2020 | 9781444763638 | RRP $32.99

In my opinion there are simply not enough books with rabbits as main characters (as she looks down at her rabbit-patterned PJs and rabbit-y slippers – well, what did you expect with my surname?). Jasper Fforde has brought his amazing brand of satirical humour to this new stand-alone novel and it’s a gem. It’s quirky and highly imaginative, full of extremely funny puns/play on words (particularly love the Rabbit-y adaptations of books and movies), absurd fantasy, thoroughly engaging protagonists and satisfyingly nasty villains and all in all is the most enjoyable romp through a rather far-fetched but very allegorical sort of dystopian UK.

In a parallel Britain of 2020 there are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits walking (as well as leaping and gambolling), talking, driving cars, working (most of them in not very highly paid jobs) and mostly living in colonies which are pretty over-crowded – as one would expect – and not well supported with infrastructure. This strange circumstance was caused by an spontaneous Inexplicable Anthropomorphism event some fifty-five years previously. It wasn’t just rabbits to be fair. There were a few other similar occurrences elsewhere in the world – an elephant in Africa, a ram in Australia, but in the main it was the UK affected with the majority rabbits but also some foxes, weasels and a few singular animals such as guinea pigs involved.

Though the rabbits have attained some rights, their lot is mostly pretty dismal and heavily restricted. They are always the target of various law enforcement agencies, with one dedicated purely to their harassment, and some rather nasty vigilante-type groups.

Peter Knox lives in a quiet village with his daughter Pippa. His neighbours are pretty hard-nose leporiphobics politically speaking but Peter, who works as an official Spotter for RabCoTRabbit Compliance Taskforce, formerly known as Rabbit Crime Taskforce – has never had any real issue with them. But when Doc and Constance Rabbit move in next door, Peter and Pippa are left in no doubt that one can be a friend to humans or a friend to rabbits but not to both.

The litany of injustices, hatred, bigotry and oppression towards the rabbits will resonate with many currently, given recent global focus on similar actions towards disenfranchised sectors of society. Some of the action, promulgated by the PM and Cabinet as a ‘positive’, is chillingly like the Nazi regime’s treatment of the Jewish people with the proposed forced relocation to MegaWarren frighteningly similar to removal to ghettos.

What Peter is to find out is that he is not as tolerant as he’s always believed himself to be and that humanity, his own humanity, is in need of some gentle rabbit influence. This is marvelously wrought throughout with the reader completely engrossed in the fantastical plot and with much upon which to reflect, both within ourselves and within our society.

Although primarily a novel for adults, I would have no hesitation in recommending this highly for your senior students and believe that for studies of parallel real events and circumstances it would provide rich fodder for debate and discussion.

How can you go wrong? I mean to say, it’s rabbits. 🙂

The Lost Tide Warriors – Catherine Doyle

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9781408896907

Bloomsbury

September 2019

ISBN: 9781408896907
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Series: The Storm Keeper Trilogy

 

The first in this trilogy The Storm Keeper’s Island was a fantastic read and this sequel equally stacks up in the page-turning excitement department.

Fionn Boyle is now six months into his acknowledged role as the new Storm Keeper of Arranmore and is in the depths of despair. Despite his heritage as the true descendant of Hughie Rua, who was imbued with the magic of the legendary Dagda, powerful sorcerer of eons ago, not to mention the magic that crackles within his own grandfather, the old Storm Keeper, he cannot summon his own powers. And time is running out, as his frequent nightmares keep reminding him. The evil witch, Morrigan, is preparing to rise again and when her minions, the dreadful Soulstalkers, begin to swarm onto the island Fionn knows that the time for her resurrection is imminent. How can Fionn possibly fulfil his role as Storm Keeper and keep the island safe when he can’t even use his supposed magic?

But Fionn hasn’t yet realised that the overthrow of evil is not always the responsibility of just one hero. It is often the case that such success is the result of a coming together of community and family. With his friends, Sam and Shelby, in particular along with his family – Grandad, Mum and even Tara – and the combined strengths of the Arranmore islanders, Fionn can lead a strong defensive resistance to Morrigan and her followers, especially if they can secure Hughie Rua’s sacred shell, the Tide Summoner, and call the ferocious Merrows from the sea to their aid.

Once again Doyle has crafted a spell-binding narrative with many plot twists and thrilling episodes. These narratives put me in mind so strongly of both Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, both of whom took traditional legends of their locales and wove them effortlessly into contemporary fantasy-adventures.

I am completely in love with this series and look forward very much to the third. This comes with my highest recommendation for readers from around ten years upwards who relish exciting fantasy-adventures with very well defined characters and awfully nasty villains.

The Good Hawk: (Shadow Skye – Book 1) – Joseph Elliott

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Walker Books Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781406385854
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

 

Enter a fabulous new adventure-fantasy series that will not just enthral readers with its ‘difference’ being set in a fictional parallel landscape but with its wonderful celebration of another type of difference. Agatha and Jamie are of the Clann-a-Tuath, one of the clans on the isle of Skye and a clan which has abandoned the practice of marriage or child-raising by defined parents. In this clan the whole community takes responsibility for children who are assigned to roles as they grow older. Jamie has become an Angler going out on the boats to fish – which he hates because of his terrible sea-sickness. Agatha is assigned as a Hawk, one who watches from vantage points to protect the clan from invaders. Agatha too has some difficulties with her role although she is closely supervised because as the reader realises from the start, Agatha is ‘different’. Some refer to her as ‘broken’ but others in the clan accept her difference and help her to develop her strengths, such as Maistreas Eilionoir.

In complete contradiction to their long-held customs the clan has arranged a marriage between Jamie and a girl of the clan Raasay in order to (so they think) ensure a strong alliance. In fact, they have been duped and clan Raasay betray them to the deamhain from far-off Norveg, ruthless barbarians with cruel intentions.

So begins an epic quest as Agatha and Jamie, the lone survivors of the attack, determine to track, find and rescue their captured clan members. To the mainland of Scotia where people have long been wiped out by a dreadful plague released upon them by the evil King Edmund in the south the pair flee, reluctantly taking along a captured deamhan who claims to be a prince in his own land, as a bargaining chip. Along their way they encounter a strange tribe, riders and companions of shaggy Highland cattle, who become allies and even stranger a mad Queen who has somehow survived plague and shadow beings alone in her castle for forty years. The rescue is arduous and long and always fraught with danger but throughout both Jamie and Agatha, who may be ‘broken’ but also has special powers, prove themselves as worth heroes over and over again, despite all odds.

This is fantastical, creepy, at times violent, but ultimately a wonderful tale of bravery, loyalty and compassion.

Elliott draws on his experience of working with children with special needs to create a memorable character, in Agatha, who is able, intuitive, fiercely loyal, sweet and funny in spite of, or perhaps because of, her Down’s Syndrome. Jamie is equal to her in many of these attributes and is able to conquer his fear, which is after all the true measure of courage, and draw on hidden strengths.

Readers from around 12 years upwards will love this for its unusual settings and characters, the use of adapted and invented languages and the full-on adventure of the rescue mission.

The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman

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9780241373347

The Book of Dust Volume Two

Published: 3 October 2019

ISBN: 9780241373347

Imprint: Penguin and David Fickling Books

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 784

RRP: $32.99

Surely one of the most highly anticipated sequels ever – or was that just me? (I don’t think so!)

I wasn’t sure what to expect but it wasn’t this – and I mean that in a very positive way. Where La Belle Sauvage was set ten years prior to His Dark Materials this continuation is set ten years after those events. Where La Belle Sauvage’s plot raced as furiously as the flood waters, this moves at a far slower pace which serves to build the intensity of the narrative in a completely compelling manner.  It is mammoth and complex and there are myriad intricacies to the plot which are far too numerous on which to expound in a review – nor would I want to.

Lyra is now a young woman and a college student, and like so many others of her own period and place as well as others, full of new ideas, questioning old beliefs and eager to make her mark. She and Pan not only have the ability to separate physically but have developed an ever widening gulf between their ways of thinking and their previously sympatico and loving connection to each other.

Strange and dangerous forces are threatening Lyra’s very existence beginning with inexplicable incidents such as the new Master of Jordan forcing her to relinquish her room and relegating her to the servants’ quarters, she and Pan witnessing a murder and the pursuit of the two by unknown malefactors. Of course, the CCD is no stranger in all of this but it appears that there is more afoot than just this body and the existing Magisterium. Almost it seems that ghosts from the past are returning to haunt her and her faithful companions. For Alice and Malcolm now reveal to her the history of the connection between all three of them and Lyra has much to contemplate.

But the story is not just the recount of events that are impacting on Lyra in a personal way. There are other sinister happenings which seem to have no connection such as the increasing scarcity of certain roses and the oil distilled from these, the significance of Dust in all of this and the ruthless uprisings of certain factions and persons.

When Pan decides to leave Lyra in his extreme unhappiness she realizes what is at stake and leaving aside all thoughts of her own safety she determines to find him again and along the way to discover the truth about the threats that are crowding in on her. The journey is fraught but Lyra discovers that there are supporters to be found in the most unlikely of places and it is with hope that she continues her mission, all the time growing more and more attached to Malcolm, who has undertaken his own part in the unravelling of mysteries.

Pullman concludes with such a mighty cliffhanger that it made me swear (I know! How unusual for me!) and once again I will have to curb my impatience to wait for the conclusion – sigh.

The master has done it again – and needs no recommendation from me – but if you are looking for your holiday read I would urge to take it up, you won’t be disappointed.

Pages & Co [Book 2]: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales – Anna James

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Harper Collins

September 2019

ISBN: 9780008229900

ISBN 10: 0008229902

Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

List Price: 19.99 AUD

Once more Tilly and Oskar are plunged into a whirl of adventure and mystery as their book-wandering travels continue. Their world and their families are in a state of flux as the British Underlibrary becomes embroiled in turmoil. The new Librarian Melville Underwood is decidedly sinister and unscrupulous and there is a veil of mystery about his long absence in the fairy tale world and the continued unknown whereabouts of his sister Decima.

When Tilly and Oskar visit Paris (and discover that Oskar is also a book-wanderer) they bravely venture into the fairy tale world and are dismayed by the instability of the stories there – large black abysses appearing in plots, various versions of the same story overlapping randomly and characters becoming lost. All this appears to be the work of some dark force and it seems that Tilly and Oskar are the ones to solve the problem and restore order.

This series is proving to be quite a delight with its fresh approach to plot and characters. Book lovers both young and old will relish the concept of becoming truly ‘present’ in the stories they read and will readily identify with Tilly’s favourites as well as being very cognizant of the ever-present dangers and villainous characters lurking in odd places. There are tense moments when ‘happy ever after’ seems elusive and there is no doubt that the evil characters are ruthless but Tilly and Oskar have proven their mettle already and will not rest until the fairy tale world is safe again.

My first readers to try out this series have been completely taken with it and I know they will be enthusiastically lining up for this second instalment. I highly recommend it for your kiddos from around Year 4 upwards.

The Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times: #3 – Cressida Cowell

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9781444941470

Hachette

SEP 24, 2019 | 9781444941470 | RRP $19.99

Not strange at all – looking up and seeing three children clutching a magical flying door high above a forest. Well ok, perhaps a magical door flying is a tiny bit odd but not in a Cressida Cowell fantasy/adventure! Xar, Wish and little Bodkin are escaping their Warrior and Wizard families along with their faithful retinue of assorted sprites, enchanted objects, snowcats, Crusher the giant and of course, Caliburn, the raven who was once the great wizard Pentaglion. However, it’s not just their respective parents and their supporters pursuing them but far worse, the Witches who are hovering above them, unseen but with the worst of intentions.

When Wish’s mother, Warrior Queen Sychorax, sets the forest alight all manner of chaos results. The ragged and tired children are facing the grimmest of narrow escapes until they are unexpectedly rescued by a giant bear. Although the giant bear is not really a bear but is actually Caliburn’s sister whom they are hoping to find and with whom they are hoping to seek shelter.  Perdita and her talking owl advisor  Hoola may not at first appear the best of saviours but the assorted band of refugees are taken into Pook’s Hill, the school for gifted wizards and are able to re-group, as well as contemplate a possible traitor in their midst.

Xar and Wish have a mission. They are determined to find a way to rid their world of Witches – and most especially the Witch-King, who is trapped in an iron ball but always posing a threat. Their sojourn at Pook’s Hill is not lengthy but enough to fortify them and give them both some skills and confidence with which to control their respective magical powers.

In the meantime, Queen Sychorax and Encanzo, Xar’s father and head of the Wizards, must reconcile their past as star-crossed lovers and unite to rescue their children.

It’s complex, fascinating, enchanting and chockers with exciting adventure and creepy characters.  I absolutely adore Cressida’s ability to combine the scary with the humorous, the seriousness with the silliness and of course, her unique illustrations and funky fonts all combine to create a really unique reading experience. No wonder she was chosen as the newest Children’s Laureate UK!

There really is no need to ‘sell’ Cressida’s novels and any readers who have already raced through the first two books in this new series will be leaping to grab this next instalment.

Highly recommended for your readers from around 10 years upwards.

Malamander – Thomas Taylor

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Walker Books Australia

 

ISBN: 9781406386288

May 2019
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

malamander

Ok, so I’m a bit slow getting to this one (cue: moving house etc) but it is one not to be missed. Two orphans are brought together in the Grand Nautilus Hotel in a slightly odd town known as Eerie-on-Sea. Herbert Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at said hotel but when a strange girl arrives in his Lost-and-Foundry closely pursued by a scary individual with a boat hook hand he is completely perplexed and at a loss.  But Herbie is adept and not one to be easily daunted – well, actually perhaps he is – but he can rise to the occasion. And rise he does, with gusto as he connects with Violet Parma who is the pursuant of the frightening Boat Hook Man. No one knows what happened to Violet’s parents who mysteriously disappeared from the hotel twelve years previously but it seems that their absence has something to do with the legendary myth of the Malamander – a fearsome sea monster with a hidden secret.

Herbie and Violet are not entirely sure of each other but as the narrative continues they become a formidable team facing strange and powerful opposition but also bolstered by surprising allies.

With regular notes of humour the pair manages to baffle their way through and against their unpleasant (to say the least) opponents in their mission to not only rescue the Malamander’s fabled egg but to uncover the truth about Violet’s parents.

This is essentially a fun read despite the odious villains and young readers from around 10 years upwards will thoroughly enjoy their expedition to Eerie-on-Sea. This is loaded with underlying themes of trust and self-belief and both Herbie and Violet are just thoroughly likeable characters, even as they act in not quite so likeable ways.

The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander [Usborne Modern Classics]

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bookofthree

Harper Collins

October 2018

ISBN: 9781474943444

ISBN 10: 1474943446

Imprint: Usborne – GB

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Lloyd Alexander was one of America’s most loved and respected children’s authors winning the Newbery Medal in 1969 and U.S. National Book Awards in 1971 and 1982. His most famous work The Chronicles of Prydain series entranced readers of all ages. The Book of Three (1969) is the first in the series and well deserving of Usborne’s release in its modern classics series.

Taran is a young orphan who dreams of being a hero, while he labours on an isolated farm cared for by his guardians, Dallben the enchanter, and Coll, farmer and ex-soldier. While Taran is mostly charged with looking after Hen Wen, the oracular pig, he longs to be as mighty and famous as Gwydion, the High Prince of Prydain, of whom legends are still told.

When danger seems to be creeping closer in mysterious ways, Taran is instructed not to leave the farm but when Hen Wen escapes in terror he ignores his orders and follows her into the wilds of the forest. Thereafter he becomes embroiled in an escalating battle between good and evil encountering a very nasty sorceress, her young ward Eilonwy and a very odd minstrel called Fflewddur Fflam. Alexander drew upon Welsh legends to create his alternate history and much richness is to be found in this narrative of high adventure with its themes of trust, loyalty and self-sacrifice. Along the way as he repeatedly tests and proves himself, Taran reaches a point of realisation of just what is the most important aspect of his relatively ‘small’ life.

This is a fabulous read and holds up with all the freshness and inventive imagination of its original publication. For astute readers of around twelve years upwards this is just terrific and I will be certainly promoting it to my lovers of classic ‘great’ books.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow– Jessica Townsend

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nevermoor

Hachette

October 2017

9780734418074 | RRP $16.99

When you receive a proof copy of an upcoming debut novel about which the publisher says stuff like ‘sold by eight-way auction’ and ‘film rights pre-empted’ you can assume it’s going to be a cracker.

And it is that indeed. Written by Jessica Townsend (Sunshine Coast! Yay!) this is going to be a phenomenon and garner readers from young to old.

Morrigan is a cursed child. These children have been born on the Eventide of a new age and their curse is to die on the next Eventide of a new age.  For all her almost-eleven years Morrigan has lived with the cruel rejection of everyone around her including her family. But things are about to change for her in the most spectacular way. Finding herself at Bid Day where children who have completed prep school are sought after by education bidders, to be trained up in whatever calling, Morrigan is startled to receive bids of her own. Who on earth would bid on a cursed child?

Before this puzzle can progress further, Eventide is upon her and so is one of the bidders.  The flamboyant and charismatic Jupiter North appears at her home and after much debate with her family, whisks her away in the nick of time as they are chased by the Hunt of Dark and Shadow pursuing Morrigan, in expectation of her death.  Jupiter’s rescue takes Morrigan to Nevermoor where she is, for the first time in her life, made to feel welcome by many (but not all) and that she could have a purpose.

She is set to work to pass the trials required to become a member of the Wunder Society and this is a fraught experience for her in many ways, but always with the support of new friends.  Not all is well though. The mysterious Mr Jones (another of her initial bidders) keeps appearing at random, other trial contenders are contemptuous of her lack of skill and a nasty law enforcement agent is determined to oust her on grounds of being an illegal immigrant.

This is filled with humour, charm, love, despair, spookiness and good fun. Although it took me a week to get through it that was only because I was so tired each night I only managed a few chapters at a time. In holiday time it would have been consumed in one go.

 I have already been promoting it to my readers from around ten years up and even my big girls in Book Club are keen to get their hands on it.

Be warned – this is going to be a ‘must have’ and you would do well to make sure it’s on your shopping list.

Highly recommended for all readers from middle primary upwards!