The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

lewis-lion-witch-jacket-white
A classic book that, after sixty years, still has the magic to enthrall young and old alike in adventure rich in scope and sentiment.

When four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) are relocated from their home and sent to a large country estate during wartime in Britain, they find a large wardrobe in an empty room that, upon entering, takes them into the magical land of Narnia. It is a beautiful, snowy land inhabited by talking animals and mythical beasts. But they soon discover that the snow is a wintery curse cast by the evil White Witch who, in fear of an ancient prophecy which names the four children as the true Kings and Queens of Narnia, seduces Edmund and attempts to use him to betray his siblings. But she is too late, as the ancient and powerful lion Aslan, lord of Narnia, returns to the land, and her magic begins to fade and spring once more returns to Narnia. Her last chance now being a desperate and bloody battle to rid Narnia of Aslan and the children, lest she be killed or exiled.

The book is written in a clear style that speaks directly to a young audience without pandering to them or being condescending. The brisk prose uses powerful imagery in short bursts, preventing the reader from getting distracted from the plot or the characters. And the characters also well represent the different facets of a child’s personality – each one effectively giving the reader something different to relate to and associate with. And though the Christian imagery is both strong and recurring throughout the book, Lewis himself swore that this book is not allegorical at all, but merely a fairy tale to entertain children.

Perhaps most surprising is the violence and brutality of the book. The narrative is clearly for a very young audience and the violence is so under-used that when it suddenly appears it has real weight and tension to it. Edmund goes very quickly from being in the Witches favor to being mistreated; he has fulfilled his purpose to her and she has no real need of him. Where only a chapter previously he was being treated as important and special, the story declines quickly to a point where the Witch punches him in the face for speaking out of turn, and two chapters later we see her preparing to slit his throat in the forest; and of course, the culminating low point is seen when she tortures and mutilates Aslan before executing him only several more chapters after this.

The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s seminal work, and that for which he is most well known. And like his contemporary, Tolkien with The Hobbit, his name is established in English speaking cultures around the world. Unlike Tolkien, who chose to focus on the journey and even used the world itself almost as a main character, Lewis uses Narnia as a springboard and he leaps between scenes to keep the pace brisk and exciting between action, accounting for the limited attention spans of children nicely.

Lewis clearly wrote for children, whereas Tolkien wrote for a wider demographic; stories set in Middle-Earth being deeper and more mature than those of Narnia. But perhaps this is the defining strength of Lewis’s work – Tolkien alienates the youngest readers, whereas Lewis is able not only entertain them, but to speak directly to them. Despite Tolkien’s clearly massive influence on the fantasy genre, it could be argued that Lewis is the more influential of the two – his work is enjoyed and appreciated earlier in life, and this in turn grows the interest which will later lead readers on to Middle Earth and beyond.

As a novel it is riddled with plot holes and flaws, but as a children’s book this is acceptable – the intended audience don’t need deep backstory or contexts to get enjoyment; if anything, the lack of over-writing makes this an exceptionally well written book. Despite being set during late the late Edwardian period the book has stood the test of time relatively well – though some colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies do exist which will date the book to modern readers.

A classic, and an instant favorite for many children, and a beloved memory for many adults: it is worth reading again to relive your youth, and even though there are countless film and TV adaptations, I think you will find that while reading this book you will not be limited to those visuals and will adequately incorporate your nostalgia with your imagination.

Spider Worlds by Duncan Long

SPiderWorldDuncan Long’s Spider Worlds is a children’s science fiction trilogy is not to be confused with Colin Wilsons’ Spider World quartet; a series of dark post-apocalyptic stories for adults and young adults. Long’s Spider Worlds is a tale about a boy, Jake, who discovers a giant talking spider in his basement, Bekla, who is actually a being from another world, studying the inhabitants of Earth and looking for someone who can help the insect races.

This is an intriguing book for several reasons. Firstly, the meta-science behind the spiders is quite fascinating. It’s a fantastic idea I would love to see explored more in fiction. Once spiders reach a certain level of sentience they are capable of weaving ‘webs of travel,’ a uniquely patterned and textured web which distorts and warps space, allowing them to travel anywhere in the universe. The second key concept, is that spiders and other insect races can’t count. This is why they need Jake – they need his ability to count and use computers to help them figure out a monetary system to enable them to trade with each other and end lengthy barter negotiations or conflicts over inconsistent pricing. There are not enough children’s books where the main protagonist becomes an intergalactic stock broker, working for a hefty commission.

The writing is easy to read; Long’s prose is clear and uncluttered. The characters are what you would expect from a children’s story. If the setting were different it would be a pretty average read, but ti is the unique science fantasy elements that make this book stand out. Intriguingly, Duncan Long has also published dozens upon dozens of books on firearms, survival, tactics and other military subjects, and his books are used by American Federal agencies as part of their training.

Not only does this not creep into Spider Worlds, but the spider, Bekla, even tells Jake the importance of keeping her a secret from other humans because word would spread, gossip would grow, fear and uncertainty would rule over common sense, people would fear the threat of invasion and war would inevitably break out – because this is what humans do.

As enjoyable as this book was, it hasn’t changed my opinions on spiders in the slightest. I can ignore small ones but, like Beklas’ fears, the large ones will be forever eradicated from my home. Who knows, maybe the large Vagrant Spiders in the wood shed are merely trying to enlist my help to create an economic system on their homeworld, and I callously squish them with an indifferent bloodlust.

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Foxdown Wood by Beth Webb

61AXVRBgBBL._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_Beth Webb is an accomplished author of children’s and young adult’s stories. Foxdown Wood (1997) is one of her earlier books, aimed at a younger audience. It has narrative similarities to works such as the Narnia chronicles or The Bridge to Teribithia, but rather then being derivative is actually a refreshingly original take on the ‘other world’ story trope.

Cathy and her Mum have moved to Foxdown Wood – Cathy is resentful towards her mother for moving and for separating from her father. Next door is a young boy, Matt, who lives with his Dad who is a controlling but loving father.

Matt also has a secret, he has a wild ‘pet’ fox in the nearby wood whom he visits and feeds on a nightly basis. At first he is upset when Cathy stumbles across his secret, but soon the children become friends. And then Vix the fox leads them through a tunnel into a Gaelic-inspired world in political turmoil, where Arthurian-like characters are at war and where Vix can speak to the children.

The turmoil in the ‘other world’ however is parallel to the turmoil back in the real world. Greedy land developers are trying to clear the woods and build a subdivision, and the children are caught in between these two conflicts. They must save the woods in two different worlds at the same time.

This book is inspired heavily from Gaelic and Celtic mythology and draws from actual customs and beliefs in places. The ‘other world’ and it’s inhabitants are, perhaps, not developed as much as one would have hoped for, and the villains are quite two dimensional and almost cartoon-like.

But, this story ultimately is not about them. This story is about the children. It is a coming of age story as these two kids must overcome the changes going on inside them and around them. Their lives and relationships with their parents are changing, their own physical world is threatening to change around them, and they themselves are growing and maturing.

The book also has a secondary theme that is paradoxical to that of change – one of conservation. Conservation of environment and customs and heritage are important aspects of this book as well, lending themselves to important plot points and character arch development.

Though not a perfect read, it is an enjoyable book. The children are and places are well written. The rocky relationships with their parents avoid the cliched tropes found in most children’s books and are actually logical and consequential to the story. Stylistically there is nothing that overly stands out in this book, but it also means it can comfortably live on most bookshelves with it’s accessible language and brisk, engaging pace.

For more information, check out our interview with Beth Webb here.

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Interview with Beth Webb

a73238_67bb2c14fe8a487bab52073659e48b45After reading Foxdown Wood by Beth Webb I decided to contact her and talk to her about her book. She is a fascinating woman who is an artist, writes books for both adults and young adults and works with an organisation called Books Beyond Wordshelping teens and adults with learning difficulties.

On your website you mention that the house that Cathy moves to in Foxdown Wood was a real house that a friend of yours owned. Are the Foxdown Woods real, or a fictional name for a real woodland?

I find it helps to have a real place in mind when I’m writing. This helps me visualise the action, and it also brings in fresh ideas of what could happen.

Sadly, there’s a wheat field where the wood should be. I used my friend’s house and his village (roughly) then ‘dropped’ a wood in the middle. But, I was visiting one day, walked to the end of the garden, and I blinked… The wood had gone! It was so real in my head, I’d forgotten it was make-believe! The name ‘Foxdown’ was a place near my own home, it just seemed like a really good name for the story.

The sub-plot about developers wanting to clear the forest, the children going through changes to their family dynamics and of course them going through adolescence – at first it seems like a story about change, and then the theme kind of twists so that it becomes one of revising old customs and remembering old ways and previous lives and preservation of the woods. Obviously conservation of culture and nature are important to you?

What a great question!

I intended the magical fantasy world to be an allegory to help the children in the book cope with all the change you described so well. Sort of like looking in a mirror to understand change and loss better. I find old customs and stories are excellent ways of looking at human psychology (I’m with Jung on this). Things do change, and children feel helpless and alone. I wanted the book to help my readers look for stories in their own lives to help them cope.

I guess the conservation theme is about how to look after the things that you can keep, while letting go of the things you can’t. And yes, conservation is very important to me. We’ve got one world (that we know of!) – let’s look after it.

Some of your references I had to search on Google to understand what cultural references  were being made. It seems that Gaelic mythology and cultural history play a large part in your work. What can you tell me about the mythos of Foxdown Wood?

Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean to be obscure! Woods were very important to our ancestors in every culture, and perhaps this is ‘coming round’ again as we begin to realise that trees are the earth’s ‘lungs’ and deforestation will ultimately both suffocate and drown us (with changed rainfall patterns and melting ice caps).

Hence, (back to Jung, again) storytellers take these images and make stories about them to get these rather heavy ideas across in a friendly, accessible way, but still carries a big ‘Important’ label.

So, let’s look at a few specifics, eg, the ‘Rogation prayers’ are still used in the Church on England in rural districts. Parishioners walk the bounds of the parish, ostensibly to bless the seeds and the land for the coming year, but it’s also a time when children are shown the borders of ‘their’ land, beyond which they MUST NOT GO. This refers to mediaeval England, when people were not allowed beyond their parish boundaries.

I suspect the idea of boundaries is fairly deep rooted in pagan thinking, asking the gods’ blessing on ‘your’ patch of land, and sending the demons away beyond your borders.

‘Guardians’ link in with this. They very ancient ideas, sort of demi-gods who protect their ‘patch’, also expressed as guardian angels in later western culture and religion. Consider ‘patron saints’. Other than that, I don’t think I was consciously linking into a particular mythos, but as I grew up reading myths and legends for fun, they could be so deeply ingrained that it they just tumble out without me noticing.

I am very fascinated by parallel universes, which I play with a bit in Foxdown Wood. But is that mythology explaining reality again?

In my ‘Star Dancer’ quadrilogy for YA and adults, I consciously link into Celtic mythology in a BIG way, but that was historical fantasy, so I made a conscious effort to get it right.

How much of this story was your own childhood, or was it the childhood of your children?

Not at all really. However, when I was a child, I used to dream this sort of adventure all the time. So… perhaps the answer is ‘yes, my childhood’? Please read my answer to the next question too.

Young adult fiction often relies heavily upon tropes of angst, familial dysfunction and isolation. These themes are present in the book but, thankfully, they actually function as drivers of plot and character, as opposed to just background exposition like many authors fall guilty of. What were your intentions with the problems these children had to cope with outside of the main plot?

Ah, this is a strange one. As you’ll have gathered, I see stories as vital ways of helping children and YA to cope with life, by creating allegories – always with hope at the end, because that’s the way I am. So, when I write, I often have something I’ve seen happening as a starting point. Sometimes the story comes first, then I realise what it’s ‘about’ as I start playing with the idea.

Foxdown Wood began with my friend’s rather tumbledown house, and the name ‘Foxdown.’ Then as I wrote, my husband left me, and my son’s best friend’s father died. We weren’t quite the families in the book…. But it was weird, uncanny and very disconcerting.

I wonder if I subliminally knew what was happening, and was telling myself a story to find a way through. Interesting, I’d not thought about that before.

Your most popular series are the Fleabag Trilogy and the Star Dancer Quadrilogy – tell me more about these works.

Fire Maiden lowThe Fleabag books are a trilogy for children aged 8-10 (ish) with a three legged talking cat with ‘cattitude’, a kitchen girl, a thief and a lady knight in shining armour who’s a snob and can’t stand cats. They were first published about the same time as Foxdown Wood, and have just been revised and re-launched with illustrations. Book three, Fleabag and the Ring’s End should be out later this year.

It’s probably easiest to point you to my web page where you can read the opening chapters for free. And here’s a recent review of book 2, Fleabag and the Fire Cat.

I have read the opening chapters to Star Dancer (which I quite enjoyed) and see that it is over 300 pages long. What was the target demographic of this series?

The Star Dancer series is for YA and adults. It’s a dark historical fantasy about the Roman invasion of Britain from the British point of view. I have druid friends who loaned me books and spent hours explaining how druids thought and worked their magic. So, it’s a mixture of history (mostly Tacitus), archaeology – I went to every almost site where the action takes place to get the ‘feel’ of the setting. I also thought about the characters psychology, studying how sympathetic magic works.

In Star Dancer, book 1, the co-protagonist, Griff, has learning disabilities, yet is more of a ‘man’ than many of the male characters. In every sense he’s the hero of the hour. I’m a great believer in diversity within books. I don’t know much about gender, so I write about disability and learning disability. Without different people, life would be colourless and empty, and stories would be lies.

I also had the help of a Crime Scene investigator who helped me work out how to solve a crime committed by magic (Fire dreamer, Book 2). Foe Wave Hunter, (3) I went to Anglesey where the Romans slaughtered the druids in a massacre in CE / AD 60, I investigated Celtic bog bodies, followed the footsteps of Boudicca the warrior queen who almost ousted the Romans ion CE/AD 61. (Stone Keeper, book 4).

I also really studied the Celtic myths and hero legends. It was exhausting!

In total, it’s 333,460 words! Again, you can read the opening chapters here: http://www.bethwebb.co.uk/#!blank/d1pr0

As time has gone on your books seem to be targeted at an aging demographic – was this just the natural evolution of your writing, or were you writing for the same audience, but one that was growing older with you?

I think at first, my stories were growing up with my children, but now they are adults, I’ve gone back to writing for younger children. Sadly, my current publisher doesn’t do kiddie books. I’ve got dragons and monsters, ancient myths and silly mice, all waiting for a nice, friendly publisher!

I’ve also written some adult short stories, but never tried publishing them. Basically, I just love writing stories – for any age group.

01The final book in the Star Dancer Quadrilogy was Stone Keeper, published in 2013. You do a lot of talks and workshops and classes – do you still write?

Oh yes. I took time off to help my elderly parents between 2008 – 13, but now they’ve died, I’ve got three books ready to go. After Fleabag and the Ring Fire (for ages 8-10) later this year, I’ll be taking a new direction with ‘Skin and Bone’ a YA crime thriller, about a 15 year old girl who’s psychic and sees crimes before they happen, and her 17 year old cousin Joe, who helps her solve them. It’s a sort of cross between X files and CSI for teens, with accurate forensics!


Tell me more about Books Beyond Words and your involvement.

This is a brilliant project for teens and adults with learning difficulties. http://booksbeyondwords.co.uk/

About 26 years ago, I was visiting a friend who was a psychiatrist working with people with learning problems. A client who’s always been calm and friendly, has suddenly become angry and destructive. His carers wanted my friend to ‘give him something to keep him quiet.’ Instead, my friend started asking questions; she discovered that this young man’s father visited him every week without fail. But the father had died, and no one had tried to explain to the young man why his father had stopped coming. They thought he wouldn’t understand. So – he was trying to tell people he was scared and worried in the only way he could – by making a noise.

My psychiatrist friend was looking through children’s books about death – but they were all allegories about butterflies, or kittens dying. She said she needed an artist who could draw exactly what she needed.

I said, ‘I can do that.’

For my drawings, I used mime and body language to show meaning. I also employed idioms, and emotionally-keyed colours, eg, ‘I feel in the pink,’ I feel blue’ ‘I’m under a cloud’ etc. I also used the sort of symbols you see in marvel comics – big ‘POW-ZAP’ stars etc.

It worked, we found we could communicate entirely without words. It’s a bit Western culture- specific, but we’re working on that.

What inspired you to become involved with books for those with learning disabilities?

I started with being desperate for money, then I found I could do something that made people’s faces light up as they understood what was going on.

There’s nothing to beat that in all the world!

Beth Webb

www.bethwebb.co.uk

My books are available from http://www.marchhamilton.com/

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The Cold Moons by Aeron Clement

571287Aeron Clement is a Welsh author who is known for his only published book, The Cold Moons. Very little is known about Clement – many websites incorrectly call him an American author, and he is often mistakenly called a science fiction writer.

He was born in Swansea and had been a director of a civil engineering company and had also been an accountant. He achieved “Best Great Dane” at Cruft’s – the worlds biggest dog show – during the seventies, and was a member of different animal preservation groups in Britain. His wife, Jill Clement, provided the cover and internal illustrations for his book. Together they had two daughters, Allyson and Caroline.

That is about all that is known of Aeron Clement.

The Cold Moons was born from his love for natural history, and his strong beliefs in animal welfare. Despite being an anthropomorphic fantasy, it is actually based on real historical events. During the seventies an extensive badger eradication program was established based on the fears that Bovine Tuberculosis was spread from badgers. Farms with high rates of BTB were found to have large badger populations which were carriers of the disease. Wild badger populations were decimated and almost driven to extinction before studies revealed that the cattle were spreading TB to the badgers, and legislation was introduced to protect badgers which were now an endangered animal.

The book begins with one such eradication of a badgers den, or sett; the entrances are closed off and the badgers are killed via poisonous gas. One badger, after witnessing the deaths of his family and kin escapes and embarks on a quest to warn nearby badger colonies. The stress of his journey and his grief is too much for him, and he dies, but not before spreading the warning.

It’s a strong start to the book – the main character, Bamber, is instantly likable, and after watching his mate and his cubs die, the reader is instantly pulled into a world of grief and imperative. Unfortunately, the second chapter then wrenches us from the story by quoting a factual newspaper article and then giving us a tonne of exposition and the background around badger exterminations. The book does this several times more, telling us in a montage of fictional newspaper articles the “human element” of the story, and this is about as distracting from the book as a Stan Lee cameo is in a Marvel film. It completely eliminates the illusion of fantasy.

Chapter three sees us return to the story of Bamber, which sadly seems a little contrived, as Bamber becomes the love interest of a walk-on character who only exists in this chapter and then vanishes with no mark on the world, and then in chapter four Bamber dies. Now we have a new main character. But try not to get attached, as he also dies in chapter eleven, and chapter twelve sees a new protagonist take over.

The new protagonist, Beaufort, leads his cadre of badgers across the countryside and through a myriad of atrocities and tragedies to find the promised land – Elysia. They must survive harsh winter, the humans with their guns and hunting dogs, and of course their own kind. One of the badgers, Kronos, is the obvious antagonist from the beginning – and eventually becomes quite an entertaining villain and generates some quite thrilling scenes. But sadly, most character development is slow, subtle or non-existent in this book.

The book genuinely does have a fantastic story, but unfortunately it takes so long to make any lasting emotional connections to characters that the book is half over by the time you do – and it is a long book. The story is a beautiful exploration of the UK forests and mountains, and one can tell reading this book that Clement certainly loves nature, and has studied a lot about badgers.

Again, this is also a downside to the book. Clement gets often gets so lost in his constant descriptions, that the story periodically becomes grocery lists where he names every species of flower, tree, butterfly and bird. These parts are tedious to read through, and sometimes one will find ones self skimming through pages in an effort to find where the story went.

There were larch trees, hanging their dark green tassels, the white-flowered gean, the white-blossomed hawthorn, the fringed white petals of the chestnut tinged with crimson. There were shrubs and bushes that would provide them with a delicious harvest in times to come, the red cloudberry, cranberry and strawberry, and the blue-black berries from bramble and elder. Beaufort marveled at the loveliness that was the touch of Logos where even the grasses in their different shades of green sparkled with emerald intensity, the meadow fescue, the sweetgrass, cat’s-tail grass, cock’sfoot, rye grass, tar grass, reed grass, and the tufted hair. He saw round-leaved willows near the sparkling stream, trees that bore great catkins and were loved by the butterflies.

The page then continues in this fashion to name the species of butterflies and flowers in the forest in a very precise and detailed fashion.

Another quirk of this book is the size of the paragraphs. Some are over a page long – reading The Cold Moons is similar to slogging through the verbosity of Wuthering Heights with it’s multitude of dithering and wandering sentences that contain every form of punctuation known to man, except the full stop. There are two predominant reasons his paragraphs are so enormous – grocery lists, and in a strange story telling technique, he uses no dialogue throughout the entire book. Every story teller knows you “show, don’t tell.” Here, Clement ignores this completely and ‘tells’ the entire book.

One could argue it’s his way of keeping the animals “non-morphic,” but that idea is contradicted by two unusual concepts in his book: politics and religion. The badgers have a complicated heirarchal type society which allows the villain, Kronos, to scheme and manipulate his way through the ranks and into the council. Clement’s writing style let’s down what could have been fantastic opportunities for character development by telling us about the meetings and debates, rather than letting us hear the dialogue and witness the badgers interacting like genuine characters.

Also, with no warning whatsoever, the badgers in The Cold Moons praise their God – Logos – quite often, and make mention of Asgard, Sheol, Ahriman, Capricorn, The Devil, and of course Logos. There is a very cosmopolitan mix of religious references here, from Middle Persion to Hebrew to Nordic.

Logos is the badgers deity. Interestingly, though adopted into Judeo-Christian beliefs, Logos was initially a Greek philospophical ideal – a principle of order and knowledge. This was interpreted differently by philosophers and theologists for hundreds of years. Unfortunately for this book, as there is no pretext for religion and no prologue explaining some great badger creation myth, these references fall flat and feel forced, adding nothing to the story.

Logos isn’t the only Greek influence in this book. A lot of badgers have names derived from Greek Titans and proto-gods and historical figures, there are Grecian influences in their society and beliefs, and some of the character’s roles even mirror their namesakes from mythological stories. But despite this, the book itself is more of a modern-classic retelling of The Jewish Exodus. The Badgers are fleeing to their holy promised land, guided by a leader who set down their rules, and they are tested and challenged whilst in the wilderness, before making it to Elysia. The villain, Kronos, even acts the role of Lucifer – he lies and betrays and offers the badgers temptations, ‘brainwashing’ them to serve him and prevent them from ever reaching the holy lands.

But despite the allegory, despite the strange editorial decisions, and despite the many obvious flaws in the story telling – The Cold Moons is very enjoyable. A slow first half is rewarded by an exciting middle, and though perhaps anti-climactic, the ending is satisfying. Stylistically it lacks what a book needs to be described as a “good book”, but in it’s substance it has enough to still be an entertaining and often emotional read.

Highly recommended to anyone that enjoys anthropomorphic or animal fantasies, or just enjoys a moving drama as well.

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The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

e5d03e0d818a7001a6c51edbd123d719Walter Moers is a german writer and artist. In 1999 the first of the Zamonia series was published in Germany, The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, and was translated into English in 2000 for the UK and 2005 for America. It was an international bestseller (though it has retained some obscurity in the US.)

The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is the fifth book in the Zamonia series and is, like the rest of the series, illustrated throughout by Moers himself ( a talented artist with roots in German comics.) Their cartoonish appearance belies the fact that his books are for a more mature audience and it are filled with puns and references that an adolescent reader may not understand, but could still enjoy.

Zamonia is a fantasy land that instantly reminds me of Discworld or Hogwarts. Demons and witches and monsters and magic and violence are an accepted part of day-to-day living. It is tongue-in-cheek, very much like Pratchett’s works, but the humour is usually a bit more subdued (with some hilarious exceptions.)

The town of Malaisea (because it is so over-whelmed with poxes and sicknesses,) is ruled by the evil Alchemaster, Ghoolion, who uses potions and chemicals to create plagues and demons to harass and control the townsfolk. The story revolves around  our Hero, Echo. He is a crat – which is an animal almost identical to a cat, except it has two livers, can speak every language and has a perfect memory. Ghoolion finds him on the street, starving and near death. The Alchemaster makes a deal with Echo – he will cook for the crat and treat him to a life of luxury in return for the right to slaughter him and extract his fat and essence for his alchemical practises.

Echo, with nothing to lose, accepts the deal. He’s going to die any, he figures, so it might as well be in comfort rather than in hungry agony on the street. And thus the story follows the adventures of the crat in the decrepit castle of the Alchemaster.

The story follows the two characters as they develop a relationship each other and become valued friends. But this is of course, an awkward relationship because it will still culminate in Echo’s death. Echo discovers magic, strange creatures, has mystical and spiritual adventures and learns Ghoolions’ darkest deepest secrets. The Alchemaster, it turns out, is an amazing chef. Every day he creates culinary delights for the crat – sating and saturating him, priming his body for the harvest. This is the heart of the book – ingredient collecting, cooking and feasting – it is fantasy food-porn that elevates the experience of eating so high that it is almost worshipped: it’s like reading a transcript for Gordon Ramsey if he were cheffing for the staff at Hogwarts.

The story is very entertaining, from start to end. It is a journey of discovery for both the characters and the readers, who get to discover the land of Malaisea as intimately as the characters get to know each other. There are many genuinely touching moments and there is also much suspense – in essence this is a story of racing against the clock.

Moers shows us his delight in creating fantastical elements with long lists of ingredients. Many many long lists. In fact, the only downside in this book is probably how repetitive it can be with the characters listing things. It becomes boring and an effort to read through on some occasions.

“Picture to yourself the sickest place in the whole of Zamonia! A little town with winding streets and crooked houses, and looming over it a creepy-looking castle perched on a black crag. A town inflicted with the rarest bacteria and the oddest diseases: cerebral whooping cough, hepatic migraine, gastric mumps, intestinal acne, digital tinnitus, renal measles, mini-influenza, to which only persons less than one metre tall are susceptible, witching-hour headaches that develop on the stroke of midnight and disappear at one a.m precisely on the first Thursday of every month, phantom toothaches experienced only by persons wearing a full set of dentures.”

The opening paragraph is long but also adequately prepares you for the rest of the book. It sets the scene and setting wonderfully, and new comers to the franchise can read it as a stand-alone book, or fans can read it and delight in an expansion of a world they already love. It is a wonderfully entertaining read and it deserves it’s bestseller status. I look forward to discovering more books by Moers.

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The White Fox by Brian Parvin

thewhitefoxThe White Fox is an exquisite journey of love and danger set in the future, long after mankind nearly destroyed the world in ‘The Great Burning’. Our titular character, the nameless white vixen, is an exile from her tribe, following her destiny in the search of green and fertile lands to fulfill prophecy.

Exhausted and starved, she is saved by our main protagonist, Chalon the dog fox. He must be her guardian and protector and must safely lead her across the world to the south and the Singing Tree, where she can fulfill prophecy and bring life back to the dying world.

The prose is beautiful and it lends an air of beauty and magic to an already special book. The descriptions of the settings are so vivid and clear that it’s like I’m physically transported to another world.

Titled The Singing Tree in Britain, it was re-released in America as The White Fox. Strangely, this was Parvins only book of this sort, as he then went on to write about forty pulp-westerns for Black Horse Westerns at Hale Publishers. Unfortunately, Parvin passed away a few years ago, and not much is known about the man outside of his various westerns.

In the eighties, stories about ‘talking animals’ were the domain of children’s fiction, so this book was a big deal to fans of anthropomorphic fiction (giving animals or objects human traits or emotions) at the time. It is still a good book, though as an early anthropomorphic fiction novel, it subsequently lacks a deeper substance such as complicated sub-plots or side characters and relies heavily upon animal interaction and environment.

It is a basic milieu story – the characters must travel from Point A to Point B, overcome some obstacles along the way and encounter foes and friends. The story can often be repetitive – the main characters being saved from peril by other animals then sent on their way to meet another animal, where they encounter peril and must be rescued by another animal, and the cycle continues.

There are genuine heart-warming moments, some thrills but not too much excitement, and the relationship between Chalon and the White Vixen is simple but strong and carries the book through to it’s conclusion.

The White Fox is is a sweet and pleasant escapist fantasy – lose yourself in the world of fox romance, gentle forests, dangerous mountains and even more dangerous wild animals. The story – just like nature – is beautiful and often times quite brutal. Not for younger children, this book will appeal to anyone from young adults and upwards.

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