Harper Collins Australia
ISBN 10: 0008256942
Imprint: HarperCollins – GB
List Price: 14.99 AUD
Alfie Monk is not your average eleven year old boy. He is ‘proficient in Old Norse, Old English, Middle English and Modern English, plus French, Latin and Greek (ancient and modern, though they are not so dissimilar), and [has] a smattering of Welsh and Scots Gaelic’. He has a very faded and blurred tattoo between his shoulder blades and two curious scars on his arm. He speaks with a curious unrecognisable accent. And his teeth are just terrible, which is to be expected if they have been in use for a thousand years.
On the other hand, Aidan Linklater is pretty much a regular eleven year old boy who has just moved to ‘Dumpsville’ due to a bad financial investment by his father, he has a rather annoying seven year old sister and his parents are continually arguing. He is pretty despondent about the move and the shift in his friendships. His new neighbour is a rather odd girl called Roxy Minto who appears to be very intuitive but also a little weird.
Roxy it is, who shows Aidan an old stone house hidden away in the woods behind their houses – and the strange woman and boy who live there. This is Alfie and his mother Hilda. When Alfie – Alve – was eleven he was witness to the last horde of Vikings attacking England. With his father killed, Alve and his mother have three most precious possessions left. Livperlers or life-pearls. His father had owned five and had died trying to protect the remaining three – one for his Mam and two for Alve when he gets older. But boys will be boys and Aidan not only uses one life-pearl on himself but when the other is accidentally broken, uses it on his cat Biffa rather than waste its precious alchemy. Now he too is a ‘Neverdead’ just as his father was and his mother is. He will live forever though is not immortal.
Though the secret of eternal life has been sought after for thousands of years, Alfie/Alve would probably tell anyone that it’s not all it may seem. And now Alve yearns to grow up, raise his own family, grow old and be ‘normal’.
The unlikely friendship of these three children becomes the answer to Alfie’s dilemma. This is a narrative filled with adventure, tragedy, humour and acceptance.
At times I felt achingly sad for Alfie in his eternal struggle to find friends and build relationships but at other times this was replaced by the joy of reading the development of true and unconditional friendship.
Told alternately in both boys’ voices is a clever device which not only allows each his own narrative but further serves to illustrate the contrast between the articulate and wary Alfie and the rather bumbling, ingenuous Aidan.
It’s a cracking read that I devoured in one sitting and I would highly recommend it to readers from around ten years upwards.