Dragon Rider (review by Laura S.)

dragon‘Dragon Rider’ is a story where a group of dragons’ home is in danger. They do not have the power to stop such a disaster, so a young dragon called Firedrake and his brownie friend, Sorrel, set out on a journey to look for the one place them and the other dragons will be safe, the Rim of Heaven. On their travels, they make friends with a boy called Ben and the three of them search for this lost land. They have help from many friends along the way, but a fiend watches in the darkness. One who wants Firedrake to find the Rim of Heaven; but not so the dragons are safe – so he can destroy the last dragons on Earth.

Cornelia Funke was born in Dorsten, Westphalia 1958. She likes writing stories that kids would enjoy, and served a while as an illustrator for children’s books. She was enchanted to draw fabulous creatures and started writing stories about wondrous creatures and unimaginable places. She wants to write stories that grasped the imagination and make a happy reading experience. She was always a lover of fantasies and always did lots of research before writing a novel. She draws her own pictures to get a better understanding of what was happening in that scene and what might happen next. She was inspired by novels like ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’.

I thought ‘Dragon Rider’ was a great book. It gets into the action and thrill of the story right from the beginning. It is a great book for those who love adventure right from when they first start reading. The author has taken as many turns and twists to the story as she could all throughout the book. The book has been written in a way that makes you want to keep on reading. It is unpredictable to as what may happen next in the story, and the author threw in as many unexpected twists as she could.  The author put as much detail into the same subject as possible making the story extra exciting. In short, this is a great book for anyone with a love for adventure.

Note: You might like to visit Cornelia Funke’s web site: http://www.corneliafunke.de/en/ to find out more about her writing, including details about her other books (like ‘Inkheart’ – now a movie) and hints from the author for your writing!

Wizard’s First Rule (review by Jack E)

‘Wizard’s First Rule’ is the start of an epic series of novels that completely staggers the reader with a number of unexpected twists and turns to keep you enthralled for hours upon hours at a time.

The series revolves around Richard Cypher, a woods guide who has grown up in Westland, a country completely isolated from the rest of the world by the boundary. Once a range of mountains, it was transformed by a master wizard into a place where the realms of death and life meet to stop people both leaving and, more importantly, to stop people coming in. Richard’s adventure begins when he is in the heartland forest and he stumbles across a ‘damsel in distress’ who is being hunted down by a quad (assassins in groups of 4). After helping this mysterious person, he discovers that she and the quad are both from across the boundary that is about to fail.

Terry Goodkind is a master in creating illusions that trick the reader into assuming that, like a lot of other books, the main character is invincible with little to no danger expected. He then crushes you with a wave of despair and misery absolutely guaranteed to shock you with the sheer horror of the events – events that are designed to keep you on your toes and awake well into the night.

This book is definitely not for the faint hearted – be prepared for the unexpected because it will happen. Another great benefit of the series is that out of the 13 books in the series, the majority of them can be read as stand alones. Definitely something I would recommend to my friends, although it can sometimes be a bit slow to read at times. Hang on because it will only get better.

– review by Jack E.

NB Image of author Terry Goodkind. Visit his web site to see what else he is writing in 2009. http://www.terrygoodkind.com/index-highres.html

Monster Blood Tattoo: Book Two: Lamplighter

‘Lamplighter’ is the sequel to the first book in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. ‘Foundling’, the first book, introduced the reader to the highly original world of the Half-Continent, where there reigns a continual battle for supremacy between monsters and humans. Monsters are seen as an evil scourge and to be killed as quickly as possible. Those who are experts in killing have the monster’s blood they killed tattooed into their skin.

Our hero is called Rossamund, an unfortunate name, which he has to carry along with a lonely and difficult life as an apprentice lamplighter. Lamplighters have an important job, going out each day to light the roads so they are safe to travel. In this second book the Half-Continent is becoming even more dangerous, with monster attacks on the rise. Far flung and remote villages are in severe danger of being overrun.

‘Lamplighter’ begins two months into Rossamund’s apprenticeship with the lamplighters of Winstermill. He develops a friendship with a “Wit”, a girl who has mind talents to hurt monsters, but her powers are barely controlled. Threnody has come from an upper class background and is haughty and arrogant. However, she wants to go against her parent’s wishes and become a lamplighter. Threnody and Rossamund become reluctant allies against the monsters. While at Winstermill, Rossamund becomes aware that there is something sinister going on. He investigates this but is not believed and for punishment Rossamund and Threnody are banished to a distant “Cothouse”. This is a savage and frightening place on the very fringes of civilisation. Monsters are visible from time to time from the top of the Cothouse’s tower.

Disaster strikes one day when Threnody and Rossamund are out on routine duties. They return to the Cothouse to find that there is a full-scale monster attack going on and all of their lighter friends are horribly massacred.

During all of this second part of the series, Rossamund is becoming aware that he is rather different to those around him. Unlike others, he finds he can’t hate the monsters, in fact he feels sympathy for their difficult lives. His enemies see this in him also and he is called in to stand trial for allegedly collaborating with monsters. Was he really partly responsible for the massacre at the Cothouse? As Rossamund tries to defend himself some shocking revelations are made.

D.M. Cornish has created a unique world in the Half-Continent. It is stunning in scope and rich in imagination. It has its own language, somewhat Dickensian, and its own science and technology. The illustrations are vivid brilliant black and white drawings and bear witness to the skills of the author who completed a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Illustration. The book also has extensive glossaries, maps and charts at the end of the book, called an “Explicarium”.

This sequel is one of the rare ones that is even better than the first book. The characterisations have greater depth, and moral issues – especially the ones about what it is to be truly human – are examined in a complex way. This book is highly recommended to those that love a good fantasy book, but it is far more than simply a well plotted narrative. Although it is directed to the young adult, adult readers will find many pleasures in it’. – Jane Crew

Finnikin of the Rock

Previously, Marchetta has been famous for her realistic fiction such as ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ and ‘Saving Francesca’. However, this time she is writing in the fantasy genre, with an authority and creative breadth that shows she is master of this genre also.

‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is epic in its scope, with action, romance and complex characters, and a well visualised sub-creation of the land of Lumatere and its surrounding kingdoms.We find out at the opening of the book that our hero, Finnikin has been warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of Lumatere, his homeland. Together with his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, and the Prince’s cousin, Lucian, they mix their blood to ensure the safety of Lumatere.

All continues in peace until the five days of “The Unspeakable”. During this dark time, the entire royal family are massacred in the palace. An imposter king takes the throne and a curse is placed on the land of Lumatere. This curse traps those inside the land and forces those outside to become exiles, living in refugee camps all over the surrounding kingdoms.

Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, the King’s First Man, are part of the diaspora, or displaced people, kept out of their homeland. Finnikin and Sir Topher take it upon themselves to visit all the refugee camps, recording the dead and negotiating for their people’s welfare with foreign courts.

The future seems hopeless when Finnikin receives a summons to the temple of The Goddess of Lagrami for a meeting with the head priestess. They are introduced to a strange young novice called Evanjelin. She claims to “walk the sleep” of the heir to Lumatere and others trapped inside Lumatere. She proclaims that the heir to the throne lives, and the rest of the book is the journey back to Lumatere, leading all of the scattered peoples home.

Evanjelin is the most fascinating character in this book. She is complex, mysterious, arrogant and contradictory. Finnikin is both attracted and repelled by her, and at times feels totally betrayed by her. The relationship between Finnikin and Evanjelin is central to this book. It becomes clear that ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is a character-driven fantasy; setting and action are subservient to this. For this reason readers who don’t usually like fantasy may well be attracted to this book.

One of the unique features of ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ as a fantasy is its themes of diaspora and dislocation of peoples. Marchetta is from an immigrant family and often writes about the struggles of the immigrant to integrate into a society which is culturally different from their own. In this book, she vividly portrays the struggles of the Lumatere people as they live in refugee camps, poverty stricken and losing hope. She points out how hard it is to communicate with the people around you when you don’t have their language, or when you realise your own language and culture is being lost forever.

Marchetta’s brilliant characterisations and imagination, along with her interest in the struggles of the immigrant, make ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ a very special fantasy novel. Highly recommended for young adults, and all readers of fantasy. – Jane Crew

Australian Book Industry Awards

While we await the announcement of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards for 2009 in August, it is interesting to see several of the nominated titles inlcuded in other awards.

While the focus of the Australian Book Industry awards may also be on publishers, distributors and booksellers, awards are also given for Illustrated Book of the Year, Biography of the Year and categories exist for Younger Children (0-8 years) and  Older Chidren (8-14 years old). This year’s ABIA Shortlist can be viewed at: http://www.publishers.asn.au/emplibrary/ABIA_Shortlist_2009.pdf

Several notable inclusions (because they are also in the CBCA awards) are: 

A Rose for the ANZAC Boys, by Jackie French 
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox
Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta
Home and Away, by John Marsden, illustrated by Matt Ottley
Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan

In the ABIA awards Finnikin Of The Rock by Melina Marchetta won book of the year for older children. Mem Fox won book of the year for younger children with Ten Little Fingers Ten Little Toes, and Shaun Tan was awarded Illustrated Book of the Year for Tales from Outer Suburbia. Details of other award winners, such as publishers and book of the year can be viewed here.

Into White Silence

‘Into White Silence’ is supposedly a historical novel based around the story of an Antarctic voyage by the Polar vessel, Raven, in 1922. The Raven is to go on an expedition, the aim of which is to map and explore parts of the Antarctic continent that are still unknown in 1922. This book features excerpts from the diary of Lieutenant William Downes, one of the leaders of the expedition. These diary portions are interspersed with comments from the narrator of the story.

From the very beginning, there is a sense of foreboding about this expedition. Most of this is initially because of the personality of the leader of the expedition, Edward Bourke. He appears to be volatile, mysterious and unreliable. He gathers around him a motley crew of men; some appear admirable, but some have dubious pasts and scant qualifications for a journey, which in its day was highly dangerous. Much is made of the fact that explorers on similar trips had died and the expeditions ended in disaster.

Into this highly charged atmosphere comes our protagonist William Downes; a man of courage and loyalty, who is a highly decorated war hero. His story is told as the voice of reason and moral rectitude. Downes also has a sense of foreboding about the expedition, which he tries to suppress, as he is given a tour of the vessel Raven as it waits in the port of Hobart. The Raven, like its name, is black and unwieldy. It sits low in the water like a malevolent beast, with none of the lightness and elegance of the ships around it.

As the story develops, our perceptions change about the expedition, the protagonist and the narrator. We realise that this is not a story from history at all, but a construct of the narrator. The narrator is perceived as increasingly unreliable and morally ambiguous. Even our hero is seen as somewhat less worthy than we thought. We begin to see him as so obtuse and lacking in flexibility and imagination, that his observations become unreliable also. The story becomes more and more disturbing and uncomfortable as the expedition descends into disaster.

Comparisons with Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ are clear, where the ship’s journey into the heart of Africa becomes a journey into hell. As the vessel gets closer and closer to Antarctica, things become blacker and more terrible. Men begin to die or get murdered. The expedition leader, Rourke, descends into madness, dragging everyone on the ship with him. References to another great and terrible sea journey, Moby Dick, with the famous Captain Ahab, are obvious. Finally, the Raven becomes hopelessly stuck in the ice of Antarctica and the ship turns into a floating coffin.

It is problematic deciding the audience for this book. The writing is somewhat slow-moving and ponderous. The action takes a very long time to get going, and can be dry reading. I sense that most young adult readers would not persist with it, and adults will find it a strange and unsettling read.

However, this said, it remains in the mind long after it is read, and brings to life the cold and forbidding world of Antarctica.

(Review by Jane Crew)

Tales from Outer Suburbia – Shaun Tan

‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’ is a loose collection of short stories, illustrated and written by Shaun Tan.  The stories are all inspired by life in the suburbs, but have many different themes and styles, and the illustrations are also a conglomeration of styles.  Shaun Tan himself has commented that “an ensemble of different stories can also evoke a single collective concept, something greater than the sum of its parts”.  What seems to bind these stories together is a combination of childlike innocence with adult wisdom and experience.

Shaun Tan says that he was inspired by his experience of being a child growing up in the suburbs, and the world of a child’s imagination.  Each story in this book is imbued with an appealing childlike feeling, often mysterious and hard to pin down.  Overlaid on this are political and environmental issues, dealt with in unexpected ways.

The book begins with the one page story ‘The Water Buffalo’, inspired by the mystery always evoked by a vacant block in the suburbs.  The buffalo is an enigmatic figure with a strange ability to be omniscient.  The drawing is marvellously appealing with the buffalo standing on hind legs, pointing with a tiny hoof.

One of the most appealing and humorous stories is ‘Eric’, about an exchange student that comes to stay.  The problem the family have dealing with Eric is common to all families who have someone unfamiliar with their own language staying with them.  Is your exchange student happy?  Are they enjoying your house?  Do they like the food?  The family don’t know the answers to these questions until Eric goes, leaving behind him a selection of exquisite little presents that commemorate things they did for him.  Added to the pleasures of this story is the fact that Eric is a tiny little person a few inches tall in the shape of an autumn leaf with legs.  There are lots of whimsical little jokes in the illustrations, such as seeing Eric sitting in the car seat belt.

Other stories deal with political issues, such as ‘Alert but not alarmed’, which has a new approach to terrorism in the suburbs; ‘Wake’, dealing with cruelty to animals; and globalisation is looked at in ‘Our Expedition’.  Some of these stories are playful and whimsical; others more serious.  This is reflected in the illustrations which accompany them.  ‘Grandpa’s story’ depicts a bleak wasteland to reflect the hard times he went through.  In ‘No Other Country’, the illustrations are designed to look like a Renaissance fresco or religious painting to reflect the European background of the immigrant families in the story.

Finally, one of the great pleasures of this book is to be found in the endpapers and contents pages.  The end papers are a conglomeration of the little doodles and sketches which Shaun Tan made over the years, many characteristic of his preoccupations and interests.  The contents page is a delight: made up of postage stamps to show the chapter names and page numbers.  The acknowledgements page at the end has an old-fashioned date-due slip and pocket, which brings back many memories to older readers.

‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’ is a book that rewards close study, as it full of hidden delights and depths of imagination.  It will appeal to readers of all ages.  It is highly recommended. – Jane Crew

Kill the Possum

‘Kill the possum’ is a novel that, in Moloney’s own words, is “not for the fainthearted”.  It is a hard-hitting realistic novel that deals with some tough issues: sexual and emotional abuse, violence and revenge.  Moloney is an author that has in the past looked at relationship difficulties in families, such as parental desertion in ‘A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove’, cultural and racial prejudice in the ‘Dougy’ trilogy and family breakdown in ‘Lost Property’.

However, this novel is the most confronting of all his novels as it deals with family violence and the hard moral questions that arise from this.  Three teenagers are the main protagonists of ‘Kill the possum’: Dylan, whose father left when he was very young, and Kirsty and Tim, who have an abusive father.

Dylan has always liked Kirsty, a girl from his school, from afar.  He gets up his courage at the beginning of the story to go round and visit her at her home.  Unfortunately, he walks into a shocking situation and witnesses the abuse by Kirsty’s father first hand.  Kirsty’s father is on his fortnightly access visit, and he always takes the opportunity to emotionally abuse and intimidate his wife and two older children.  Though this time he does no physical violence, the emotional scars are just as damaging.

Tim, as a young teenage boy, is much smaller and slighter than his Dad, and feels intimidated, and helpless to protect his sister and mother.  These things cause Tim to stutter, binge drink, self harm and truant from school.  At the same time, a ball of hatred and anger is building up inside him, threatening to break out in violence.  Kirsty deals with the abuse by compartmentalising and pushing the bad feelings aside, allowing her to attempt to live a “normal” happy life with her friends at school.  Their mum collapses emotionally, taking to her bed and leaving Kirsty to run the house and family.

Dylan walks into all of this and immediately feels drawn in to their nightmare world.  He feels responsible to help them, especially when he learns the justice system won’t.  He develops a close but separate relationship with Kirsty and Tim.  Dylan and Tim begin to plan to murder Tim’s father, Cartwright.  Dylan feels this is the only thing to do before Tim or his Mum attempt suicide.

The title of the book, ‘Kill the possum’ comes into play when Dylan and Tim practice on a possum they have caught in their roof.  If they can bring themselves to kill the possum, maybe they will have the courage to kill Cartwright.  A shocking scene of violence unfolds when they attempt this.

The book moves swiftly to an extremely confronting conclusion and raises moral questions such as: ‘Is the killing of one person to save others justified in some circumstances?’ and, ‘Is it right to lie in court to protect others?’

Moloney has written a very important book in ‘Kill the possum’.  The characters are portrayed insightfully and the scenes of violence and abuse are frighteningly vivid and uncomfortable.  It will be appreciated by young adults who enjoy realistic fiction, but it will also be useful for all the moral issues it raises for discussion.  It is highly recommended. – Jane Crew

Frida: Chosen to die, Destined to live

In a night of horror, after weeks of fear, Frida’s family was slaughtered. With her family at the time of terror, Frida somehow survived, in spite of vicious injuries. Left alone, with horrific memories of the massacres which occurred in Rwanda in the 1994 persecutions, Frida not only survived but became a strong advocate for healing her troubled nation.

The details in this story, tragically, are very real. They explore the gradual deterioration of village friendships and neighbourhood networks at the time of racial conflict present in Rwanda in 1994. Told from the perspective of one who was there as a child, the story shows how invasive, manufactured, cultural differences can corrupt a society.

‘Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Most of the dead were Tutsis – and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus.’ BBC report, Rwanda: How the genocide happened, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1288230.stm

 

Frida witnessed the massacre of her whole family, and somehow, miraculously survived herself. This is her story – one of numbness, anger, then determination. Why she survived and what she achieved as a result fill the pages of ‘Frida’ – a book that hard to read but worth the struggle to understand.

Hamlet: a novel

What do you do with a great story that, for some, is hard to understand? Well if you are John Marsden, you take it, and mould it into a modern shape, using characters and language that teens might find more acceptable.

When we first meet Hamlet, he is kicking about with Horatio; words at first and then a football on a grassy paddock (in Denmark). The boys play about as the average teen boy might, and discuss the state of affairs of ‘Affairs of State’ – i.e. the death of Hamlet’s father and his mother’s subsequent remarriage to his uncle.

Marsden does a reasonable job of modernising the Shakespearean tale, but at times the mix falls short. It is npt always easy to accept the change of language that exists through the novel, as Marsden strives to stay true to Shakespeare while adding the modern spin. (It is as though he hadn’t decided whether to stay true to Shakespeare’s prose or totally reinterpret for the modern adolescent.)

The modern spin also adds some disturbing twists to the classic, as Hamlet displays a dark and cruel side at times. His actions in the forest, dealing with a dying badger, portray an unexpected sadistic nature. Sensual tension in Ophelia plays her as a pawn in Hamlet’s game – an object, rather than a person, in his eyes, according to Marsden.

In ‘Hamlet: a novel’, Marsden has begun an interesting appropriation of one of the great bard’s plays. The opening chapters lure with promise. But the latter scenes seem to fade to insignificance.

An interesting read nonetheless. It could be a useful introduction to the classic, and worthy of discussion about how it compares. Be careful it might even trap you into looking further into the real thing!