We have some striking first novels in this selection, including Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence, Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan, and the openers of two new series, Black Arts by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil, and The Sign of One by Eugene Lambert. It will be interesting to see if these books will attract attention from award panels in the months to come.

More familiar names here include Mary Hoffman, Malorie Blackman and Chris Priestley. Mary Hoffman’s Shakespeare’s Ghost is one of the launch titles for her own Greystones Press – see the separate feature about that. The influence of the Shakespeare anniversary earlier this year can also be seen in no fewer than three futuristic versions of Romeo and Juliet reviewed hereall of them, as it happens, set in outer space.

There must be something stirring. Shakespeare’s Ghost ventures into the world of faerie; Katherine Langrish’s Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, which I’ve reviewed in this issue, is a collection of essays on folklore and fairy tales; and Dennis Hamley is greatly impressed by Timothée de Fombelle’s extraordinary The Book of Pearl, which to judge from his review is not to be missed.




Editor's Choice - Shakespeare’s Ghost


Written by: Mary Hoffman

Published by: Greystones Press

Reviewed by: Linda Newbery

Mary Hoffman, well-known for Amazing Grace and for her Stravaganza series set in an alternative Venice, treads fruitful new ground here in a story set in Shakespeare’s Stratford and London. Ned Lambert, a young actor in the King’s Men theatre company, wonders whether he’ll be kept on, now that his voice is breaking and he can no longer take the roles of girls and women. Scenes in the real world alternate with voices and settings from across “the Boundary” – a faerie princess, Faelinn, desires beautiful Ned as her lover, appearing only to him and later giving him the means of summoning her whenever he wishes.  Readers familiar with folklore will be well aware of the dangers of yielding to faerie seducers (see Katherine Langrish’s Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, another of Greystone Press’s launch titles, for more on that subject) but Ned, understandably, can’t resist.

The bond between Ned and William Shakespeare (usually referred to as the Poet) deepens as Ned learns that Shakespeare too has had strange visitations from the other world, with influences finding their way into A Midsummer Night’s Dream and now The Tempest – for which he creates the role of Ariel with Ned in mind. Soon a favourite of young Prince Henry as well as of Shakespeare, and beloved by pretty Charity, a seamstress, as well as by Faelinn, Ned faces a difficult choice; will he give up worldly opportunities in favour of the uncertainties of the faerie world? There are strong enticements, not only from Faelinn herself but as a means of escaping from the risks of London life, where plague is rife and where Ned is at one point accused of consorting with witches.

Shakespeare’s Ghost combines insights into daily and theatrical life in the early seventeenth century with a rich, clever and unusual plot, full of surprises until the end.

 

Linda Newbery’s Missing Rose is published in Black Swan paperback.


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Book of Lies


Written by: Teri Terry

Published by: Orchard

Reviewed by: Bridget Carrington

In her earlier novels, the Slated trilogy, and Mind Games, Teri Terry has shown her interest in future worlds in which young people’s decision-making and lives are controlled by societal powers over which they have no control. In Book of Lies she takes a step backwards in time to an early twenty-first century, current-day setting, in which identical twins are not only inextricably linked by their relationship, but also by supernatural influences from their family’s past. We first encounter Quinn at her mother’s funeral, drawn there by a desire to ensure that the mother who abandoned her as a baby is really dead. Here she meets Piper, the twin who her mother raised as an only child.

We gather that neither apparently knew of her twin’s existence, as Piper grew up in a comfortable urban home, while Quinn lived many miles away in a remote, run-down farmhouse with her grandmother. We soon become aware that Quinn is as insecure and troubled by her isolated past, as Piper is confidant and manipulative, clever, popular, doted on by her recently bereaved father, and supported by her boyfriend Zak. Once the twins meet they try to unravel their childhoods, and each seeks to uncover the mystery behind their separation. The more they discover the greater becomes the danger from a centuries-old family involvement in witchcraft, and the power which each can use for good or evil.

The narrative is split chapter by chapter into the differing thoughts of Quinn and Piper, though readers gain more of an insight into the former, with Piper’s full experience only revealed in the final pages. The first half of the book reads almost as a conventional coming-of-age novel, with slight hints of a haunted past, but as we read on the sisters’ supernatural inheritance increasingly, and disastrously, intrudes on their lives, and those around them. Terry is clearly fascinated not only by relationships between young adults, but especially by the intricacies of the mind and our psychological strengths and weaknesses. Do any of us really know why we behave as we do? A truly sobering thought…


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Orangeboy


Written by: Patrice Lawrence

Published by: Hodder

Reviewed by: Yvonne Coppard

Sixteen-year-old Marlon is doing well at school and has a good relationship with his mother. His father died of cancer and his older brother, a member of a local gang, was left severely disabled after a car chase. Marlon has promised his mother that he will stay out of trouble and it’s a promise he intends to keep. He is not one of the cool kids; he lives a quiet, boring life. Then, a beautiful out-of-his-league girl takes an interest in Marlon and everything changes.

On their first date, she dies unexpectedly – just after she has given him a little bag containing six Ecstasy pills to ‘look after’. Marlon finds himself at the centre of a gang vendetta he doesn’t understand, and the attention of the police who see him only through the lens of their experiences with his brother.

This debut Young Adult novel is a masterfully crafted thriller. There is humour, poignancy and suspense. Marlon’s descent into the tit-for-tat violence that pervades gang culture is swift and frightening. It draws in his mother and his best friend, Tish, as Marlon makes terrifying choices in his effort to protect them. There is enough detail and tension to leave the reader suspended in the moment as events unfold, and Marlon lays out the options as he sees them. The character is so lovingly and realistically portrayed that you’ll be willing him to make the right choices, and devastated when he doesn’t. Through Marlon’s eyes, you see how an ordinary life can pivot and fall into darkness in the blink of an eye. There are no clues about how it will end – the mark of a brilliant storyteller.

Yvonne Coppard and Linda Newbery’s Writing Children’s Fiction is published by Bloomsbury


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Illuminae: The Illuminae Files: Book One


Written by: Anne Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Rock the Boat

Reviewed by: Morag Charlwood

Illuminae both defies and redefines boundaries of story-telling for its twenty-first century YA audience. In a breathless tale of inter-galactic power-play and interstellar romance, the authors blend Sci-Fi, Science Fantasy and graphic novel in an audaciously devised, yet meticulous plotting-style which is breathlessly sustained to its echoing closing refrain.

The story goes thus: the year is 2575 and two mega-corporations are at war over a planet that is little more than an ice-covered speck. The heroes, Ezra and Kady, have to be speedily evacuated on the very day they’ve had a lovers’ tiff. Tragedy is swift to follow, as a deadly virus threatens the escapees on one of the space ships in their fleet. Kady has to hack into a mass of tangled data systems to break through to ascertain the truth behind the virus attack.  Unfortunately, the only person who can help her is Ezra, her ex.

A kind of post-modern Romeo and Juliet follows, told in filmic style and with great zest and heart. I think we can await the film trilogy with bated breath. 

 

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My Favourite Manson Girl


Written by: Alison Umminger

Published by: Atom

Reviewed by: Trevor Arrowsmith

To link a YA novel to the shocking Manson murders of 1969 is a bold choice by Umminger. She tells us in her Author’s Note that she wishes to present a teenager who does not emulate the Manson girls' violent and vicious behaviour, but is, by implication, as likely as any adolescent to have followed such an extreme path – a frightening thought in this age of jihad.

Most of this well-written book concerns fifteen-year-old Anna's acclimatisation to the - frankly - slightly odd world of California, after she uses a stolen credit card to fly there to join her sister Delia. Delia's boyfriend is making a film about Manson and hires Anna to read up for him on the salient points, at ten dollars an hour. The action, such as it is, only picks up in the final chapters when Delia's lack of openness catches up with Anna and a group of friends in an act of violence which partially recalls that of the Manson murders.

Despite the relatively static, character-based plot, this is an engaging read: the formula of two or three descriptive sentences followed by a line or two of dialogue keeps things moving, using language clearly influenced by social media. My reservations concern to what extent this is a positive read, rather than a slightly seedy one. In Chapter One we have a reported reference to "supersize transsexuals" eating "dog shit off of lawns", the first of several lewd phrases which give a brash, cynical tone.

In her Author’s Note, Umminger says that Anna is a 'regular' girl who finds her way home, and concludes that the Manson girls, 'lost girls who made bad choices', could have been like Anna, given a different social background.


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Faceless


Written by: Alyssa Sheinmel 

Published by: Chicken House

Reviewed by:  Bridget Carrington     

Like Malcolm Rose’s 2003 novel Transplant, and the Melvin Burgess novel from three years later, Sara’s Face, Alyssa Sheinmel’s Faceless is centred around a face transplant. Unlike the two earlier novels, which incorporate dramatic events which influence the wish/need for transplantation, and despite the cataclysmic nature of its opening pages, in which Maisie is burnt following a lightning strike, Sheinmel concentrates on the physical and psychological recovery from the operation. Divided into four parts spanning a year, the forty-five short chapters take us from life as a sporty sixteen-year-old through the mental and physical darkness of acceptance of the irrevocable changes to her life which face Maisie.

Quite apart from the change in her appearance – a stranger’s face in the mirror, when she can bear to look – and the tedium of the endless medication routine and being forbidden to exert herself, Maisie most fears the reaction of others who knew her ‘old’ self – Maisie 1.0. Her physical recovery is slow, and her initial appearance as the scarring and surgical trauma slowly decline elicits an appalled sympathy from her friends, and embarrassed ridicule from others. In many ways Maisie’s self-esteem echoes these reactions, and it takes her many months, and encouragement from a support group to achieve an acknowledgement that she must go through a mourning process for her past life and appearance before she can accept the changes and move forward as Maisie 2.0. As a result she dumps the boyfriend she had only just found, but constantly regrets the opportunities she has lost though this action.

Possibly to underline the length of recovery necessary, Sheinmel’s narrative is slow and repetitive, and this can become tiresome. Her characterisation, apart from Maisie herself, tends to be two-dimensional, as boyfriend, best friend and warring parents often seem to be merely convenient sounding-boards for Maisie’s feelings.

It’s a pity that a book which addresses the serious subject of life-changing injury does not include an appendix of relevant help organisations. This is an opportunity lost in a book which, despite some shortcomings, will undoubtedly engage and challenge YA readers.


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Eden Summer


Written by: Liz Flanagan

Published by: David Fickling Books     

Reviewed by:  John Dougherty    

Jess’s unusually good mood is broken when she arrives at school and discovers that her best friend Eden is missing.  Something is badly wrong; but only very slowly, as the story progresses and a day of tension, revelation and discovery unfolds, do we discover quite how wrong.  As Jess tries to figure out what could have happened, her memories take us back through a deeply painful summer and a series of events which may, she fears, have led to tragedy.

Eden Summer is a tease of a book.  From early on, secrets are hinted at but withheld. We grow to understand that both Eden and Jess have suffered traumatic incidents, but the depth of the traumas is only slowly revealed.  The role that the handsome but possibly volatile Liam has played in the girls’ friendship - and possibly Eden’s disappearance - is drip-fed, tantalisingly slowly.  Hints and clues to all of these intertwine with the story and with one another in a way that could in less assured hands make for an incredibly irritating read; but in fact it’s brilliantly executed, in a way that makes you want to keep turning those pages.  Jess and Eden are a great pair of protagonists, and their friendship is utterly convincing.  Eden in particular is not always likeable, but even the extremes of her behaviour turn out to be understandable and, ultimately, forgivable, while Jess’s combination of vulnerability and necessary toughness make her an immensely sympathetic narrator.

Although a taut thriller, Eden Summer is also a story of friendship, of grief, and of survival, told with a sure hand, an emotional heart, and a sense of conviction that doesn’t waver.  This is an immensely strong debut novel, and I suspect it won’t be long before we hear more of Liz Flanagan.

 

John Dougherty’s Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers is published by Oxford University Press.


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The Square Root of Summer


Written by: Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Published by: Macmillan Children's Books

Reviewed by: Saira Archer

This is an enchanting novel from Harriet Reuter Hapgood about love, loss and, surprisingly, quantum theory set in Gottie H Oppenheimer’s beguilingly anarchic world during a long, hazy summer.

Gottie begins the novel isolated by unhappiness, at home with her silent father and not reconnecting with her brother, Ned, just home from university. She is struggling to surface from the deep grief of losing her beloved grandfather, Grey, a year before and her first taste of heartbreak with Jason, a boy who left her to cope alone at her grandfather’s funeral. Then her closest childhood friend, Thomas, turns up again in her home for the summer after silence during the five years apart. Perhaps it is no wonder the world around her seaside home begins to fall apart for Gottie  – and not metaphorically. Gottie sees glimpses of other realities as wormholes open up in her home. Times split in half just like the quantum theory she is studying. She is flung through or runs towards these time tunnels to the previous summer when she lost her grandfather and fell in love, and also to the time just before Thomas left. The highly intelligent Gottie begins to see more clearly the black holes in her memories and to understand more about her past and her love.

Written as a countdown to where the realities may reconnect, this is a fascinating read, drawing on quantum theory for its ideas and never patronising to non-scientists. The eccentric characters in the novel are delightful and the relationship between Gottie and the newly-returned Thomas is handled with a fresh, warm authenticity.

The novel is full of bittersweet realisations and the raw awkwardness of young adulthood, and was so intriguing that I re-read it immediately.


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Anything That Isn’t This


Written by: Chris Priestley

Published by: Hot Key

Reviewed by: Paul Dowswell

Chris Priestley conjures a sinister world from familiar ingredients: Kafka, Prague and 1984 get tossed into the mix alongside a hefty dash of Eastern Bloc totalitarianism. There are some reliably grotesque Priestley elements too – invisible lizards, an old man with eyebrows like living caterpillars, two-way graveside chats with dead Grandad, a ghost train…

But what keeps this story fresh, alongside Priestley’s lovely cinematic writing, is his fine command of characters. You feel for school leaver Frank Palp, the gangly hapless hero, wanting to do something exciting in his life and instead being faced with the crushing plod of working for ‘The Ministry’. Frank shares his bedroom with a sort of living Orwellian telescreen – a ‘student’ who writes down everything he and the family say. Frank fancies posh girl Olivia, and seems oblivious to the love kind-hearted girl-next-door Dawn feels for him. As the story progresses Priestley writes about sex in an honest, touching manner and I’m glad Hot Key didn’t wield the editorial scissors here – I’m sure many early teen readers will have seen much more on the internet.

Frank faces life’s tribulations uneasily, not least school bully Scape, who presses his friendship on him in their post-school existence, and the sinister Mr Vertex, who recognises Frank’s intelligence and wants him to come and work for his snooping ‘civil servants’.

This is a dense, demanding read, and its 468 pages might well put off the more reluctant reader. But Priestley’s beautiful monochrome illustrations are scattered liberally alongside the text and help the story along no end, as it builds to a phantasmagorical climax.

 

Paul Dowswell’s latest historical novel, Bomber, is published by Bloomsbury.


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The Loneliness of Distant Beings


Written by: Kate Ling

Published by: Little, Brown

Reviewer: Catherine Butler

When a coded message from the distant star Epsilon Eridani reaches Earth, the SETI programme (sponsored by Ventura Communications Incorporated) sends a spacecraft to make contact.  The only trouble is, it’s a 700-year round trip. Many generations will live and die undertaking it, born to carry out a mission they did not choose, on behalf of a planet they have never seen.

The Loneliness of Distant Beings is set a couple of generations into  their voyage. The story is told by Seren Hemple, and concerns her forbidden love for a boy different from the one selected by the ship’s scientists to be her Life Partner (selections aimed at maximising the genetic health of a population of only two thousand). This story is Romeo and Juliet in space, with Seren and Domingo having to fight the dictates of parents and the ship’s authorities to stay together.

The overwhelming power of Seren’s desire is well conjured, but cannot obscure the problems with the book’s worldbuilding. The ship has Cultural Preservation rules, to stop innovations that might change the culture from the one that left Earth. This is a culture in which people watch old movies ad nauseam and play Football Manager on computers, despite never having seen a game. Writing new songs is a crime; though, strangely, no one seems concerned at the on-board extinction of the Spanish language. Why would anyone think this a desirable or sustainable arrangement? (Earth itself will certainly have changed in the 700 years of the journey, which makes the point still harder to see.) Still more bizarrely, and even though pregnancy is performed by AI, matched couples are forced to stay together for life in an outward display of loving heterosexual marriage. Again, why? No explanation is offered.

It’s as if society’s rules had been designed specifically to thwart the main character’s love. That is a not an uncommon teenage perception; but here the rules don’t make much sense by any measure. I suspect such difficulties will trouble many readers less than me, but they detracted from my engagement with the book.

 

Catherine Butler’s edited collection of supernatural chillers, Twisted Winter, is published by A&C Black.


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Never Evers


Written by: Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison 

Published by: Chicken House 

Reviewed by: Keren David     

Fans of Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s witty and well-observed debut Lobsters, a tale of teenage love and lust which was shortlisted for the inaugural Bookseller YA Prize, might feel slightly miffed that their follow up has tumbled down the age-range, landing squarely in the ‘clean teen’ marketplace. But for fans of the Geek Girl series, Never Evers is a perfectly-pitched story of 14-year-olds Mouse and Jack’s romance in the aspirational setting of a school ski trip. What sets it out from other similar books is that Jack’s viewpoint is just as important as Mouse’s.

Mouse’s dream of being a ballerina has been crushed, and the school trip is a chance to re-establish friendships at the school she’d left when she was picked -  over her friend Lauren – for ballet school.  Mouse’s disappointment and embarrassment over her situation is easy to sympathise with, and her ambivalence towards her former classmates is all too true to life.

Jack’s friends are sure that a ski trip is their big chance to kiss multiple girls, an idea which fills Jack with equal amounts of hope and fear. They have a band – its lack of a name is a running joke – which didn’t quite make it to Band Night. When a French pop star who looks exactly like Jack turns up at the resort, the stage is set for a comedy of errors.

Ellen and Ivison excel at creating realistic teenagers, boys and girls, and delivering emotional truths amid the many laughs. Hopefully the relatively discreet hearts on the cover -  alongside the comedy hamster - won’t put off boy readers, as they’d enjoy it and identify with the characters just as much as any girl.

 

Keren David’s Cuckoo is published by Atom in August 2016.


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In the Dark, In the Woods


Written by: Eliza Wass

Published by: Quercus      

Reviewed by: Emma Pass     

Castley Creswell lives in the middle of the woods with her siblings, her mother and her father, who has created his own cult made up solely of his family. He believes his family are the 'chosen ones' and wants to keep them separate from the outside world. But Castley wants a normal life. She wants freedom. Can she break away from her father, or will she and her brothers and sisters be trapped forever?

I wanted to love this book. It had all the ingredients of a gripping and thought-provoking read – family, religious cults, secrets and lies. But for me, it didn't quite hit the spot.

Apparently Wass grew up in a religious cult; her experiences certainly make In the Dark, In the Woods authentic and hard-hitting. But I found the plot confusing and struggled to keep track of the characters, who all seemed very similar despite having fairly unique names (Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive and Jerusalem).

I also felt that the parents – the mother, left disabled after she refused to seek medical help for a serious injury, and the tyrannical father – were rather shadowy figures, as was the mysterious Michael who ends up playing a vital part in the story. To me, they could – and should – have had much stronger roles, considering their actions underpinned the whole dynamic of this incredibly dysfunctional family.

I did enjoy the writing itself, though – in places it bordered on lyrical, giving a heartbreaking insight into Castley's emotions as she struggled to make sense of her existence. There were also some touching moments between Castley and her brothers, showing how torn they were between obeying their father, who they once trusted unquestioningly, and wanting to break away from what they increasingly recognised as a highly abnormal upbringing.

Other books about cults and religion which readers might enjoy are The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams and Seed by Lisa Heathfield.

 

Emma Pass's The Fearless is published by Random House.


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Underwater


Written by: Marisa Reichardt

Published by: Macmillan

Reviewer: Sheena Wilkinson

This likeable debut novel is the story of the aftermath of a high school shooting told from the first-person perspective of seventeen-year-old Morgan, whose memories of the 15th October, and the part she played in its events, have traumatised her so deeply that she can no longer leave her home. Once a member of the school swim team, a popular A-student, she is now isolated and slightly overweight. 

Morgan is agoraphobic, locked into her tiny apartment, her own misery and the dull routine of distance learning that has become her life since the fateful day on October when her high school was the scene of a massacre. She has a loving, harassed mother, a loving, cute little brother, and a possibly loving but also absent, alcoholic and traumatised army veteran father. There’s also Brenda, the tough-loving and ever-wise counsellor, and the once-loving but now estranged friends from her former life.  Into the mix comes Evan, the very-soon-to-be-loving boy who moves in next door, with PERFECT BOYFRIEND MATERIAL etched on his gold-tipped surfer curls. And if you’re agoraphobic, having boyfriend material right next-door in an apartment block is pretty handy.

This all sounds rather cynical, and it’s true that I found this novel, though very readable, a little lacking in edge for something with such potentially dark subject matter. I saw it in the tradition of writers like Courtney Summers and Sarah Dessen, but rather gentler. Morgan is an engaging narrator, striving to overcome her issues, and ultimately succeeding, but you never really think she won’t, and though there are setbacks, they are easily resolved. Everyone is supportive; everyone is decent; and the most interesting thread – Morgan’s fear that she has inherited her father’s demons and her determination not to be like him – is, in my opinion, rather under-explored.

Having said that, Reichardt handles the drip-feed of what exactly happened on 15th October, the day of the shooting, very effectively, as the reader wonders just what was the extent of Morgan’s involvement. I certainly kept turning the pages with enjoyment. And at points the novel is genuinely moving. Morgan is self-aware without being over self-pitying, and the prose is spare and sparky. The imagery of water, from the rain that Morgan and her father delight in, to Evan’s surfing and the neighbourhood pool which is to Morgan a focus of what she has lost and longs for, is subtle and well-handled. All in all, this is a thoughtful and very readable novel.

 

Sheena Wilkinson’s most recent novel, Name Upon Name, is published by Little Island.


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Black Arts (The Books of Pandemonium)


Written by: Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil      

Published by: David Fickling Books

Reviewer:  Anne Harding     

Black Arts is a gripping fantasy adventure set in London in 1592. An Elizabethan backdrop then, but this is not the Elizabethan London of courtiers and luxury so often presented in books and on screens. This is a London of darkness, squalor, decadence, devil-worship, public hangings and crime; a London whipped to anti-witch fever pitch by charismatic preacher Nicholas Webb and his Puritan sect, the mysterious Elite.

Jack is a talented thief, well taught by his resourceful mother, and newly apprenticed to Sharkwell, the ruthless head of a vast and highly successful criminal network. Jack’s luck takes a dramatic downward turn when he spots a well-dressed man at a theatrical performance, an easy prey to his cut-purse skills. There’s a peculiar pipe in his haul. When Jack inhales the powder in it, his life changes: a stain appears on his hand, one of his eyes becomes intensely painful and he starts to see terrifying images. Far worse, Webb kills his mother in front of him. He vows to avenge her, but must keep his plans secret even from Sharpwell’s quick-witted granddaughter Beth, a brilliant con-merchant and disguise-artist, with whom he is set on thieving and spying tasks. Jack is drawn further and further into intrigue, sorcery and danger. He will need all the artistry, help and magic he can summon if he is to escape with his life.

This is a very impressive debut novel. The portrayal of an alternative-reality late sixteenth-century sub-world is totally convincing, even down to the slang. Jack and Beth are compelling protagonists, and there is a strong supporting cast, not least Jack’s familiar, an insect with both aptitude and attitude. At nearly 500 pages the book demands some perseverance, but lovers of fantasy and suspense will lap it up - and swiftly move on to the second in the Books of Pandemonium series, Devil’s Blood.


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Alone


Written by: D J Brazier

Published by: Andersen Press

Reviewed by: Angela Solomons

On a trip to the Amazon jungle Sam and his dad are involved in a plane crash and Sam is left alone. Although he is able to find a river for supplies of fresh water he suffers badly from biting ants, mosquitos and other insects. As each day passes Sam becomes more despairing. He needs food and a fire but has nothing to light a fire with. Finding his way back to the crash site he finds his rucksack and his dads watch. Taking the watch apart, he uses the glass to make a lens using the sun and is able to make a fire. He is also able to fashion a fishing rod and catches minnows and later piranha before deciding that his best hope of rescue is to build a raft. Seeing two otters, he calls the pup Galaxy.

This novel is very descriptive with detailed scenarios of Sam's injuries especially when later in the book when he is bitten by a scorpion and the wound is infested with maggots. By then he is so faint with hunger that he eats them, so this is not an easy read for those with a weak stomach! But the central question of whether Sam will survive and eventually be rescued is omnipresent throughout.

When Galaxy loses his mother they become a team, both managing to find fish to feed the other. After a rainstorm his raft is submerged and useless and the otter cub is injured by a wild pig that invades their camp. They must try to swim their way out but Sam's scorpion bite means he cannot walk and they are both unable to find any food. With boy and otter getting weaker and weaker, is there any hope?

At times Sam's task seems almost impossible but the book is utterly absorbing and for this reason this book is highly recommended for its thriller-like mode. For eleven years old and above.


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The Sign of One


Written by: Eugene Lambert

Published by: Electric Monkey

Reviewed by: Simon Barrett

Wrath is a back-end world where everything either hurts you or eats you.  Life is harsh, ruled ruthlessly by a dictator called ‘the Saviour’ and his special forces – ‘the Preservers of Human Purity’ - more usually known as the Slayers.  When sixteen-year-old Kyle finds out that he is not as human as he believed, he must run for his life.  Oddly the Slayers want him alive and he does not know why.

The Sign of One is a fast-paced science-fiction chase across the world of Wrath.  Fearing his mother dead, Kyle reluctantly partners up with Sky, a gritty windjammer or gilder pilot, and somehow they manage to evade the Slayers and all the other predators on the planet, refusing to give up and die.  Others help along the way, including friends of Sky and her contacts in the rebellion, Gemini.  Meanwhile Kyle needs to find out what he is and, more importantly, who he is.  He knows he is an ident, an identical twin and the human twin, but not who is his twin or his parents.  This explains the exorbitant bounty offered for his capture and determines his value to the rebels.  Although Kyle is warned that Sky uses people, he bitterly learns the extent to which she is prepared to use him.

The Sign of One is a great read.  This is mainly due to the way the characters of Kyle and Sky develop.  Kyle has to do a lot of growing up and is generally annoying at the start of the story where he is portrayed as an angry teenager, storming around, making matters worse.  Slowly he gains in heroic stature, thinking more about others than himself.  Sky’s gruffness is much the same, but becomes more understandable as Eugene Lambert reveals Sky’s backstory, often telling it indirectly through a third party rather than revealing it through Sky herself.  Cleverly Lambert maintains the tension between the two characters, creating a degree of doubt or mistrust between them.

It is classic sci-fi with a young man caught up in a resistance group who are fighting an evil tyrant – and this is only the start of the war.  Look out for the sequel in 2017: Into the No Zone.


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The Book of Pearl


Written by: Timothée de Fombelle (translated by Sara Ardizzone)

Published by: Walker Books   

Reviewed by:  Dennis Hamley  

My French would not be good enough for me to appreciate  this marvellous novel in the original, but if the English text by Sara Ardizzone and Sam Gordon has lost in translation then to read The Book of Pearl in its first language must be an experience indeed. 

In an alternative dimension there is a land – Faeryland if you like –in which Ian is the king-in-waiting. For the whole of his life he has believed he has a sister. But then he finds he was wrong. Unwelcome news - he has a brother, Ilian. Worse - they are rivals in love for Olia, a beautiful fairy. Furious, Ilian orders his new brother’s execution.

But Ilain is saved. Taag, the genie, tasked with killing him, repents and banishes him to a world far removed in space and time – in fact, our world. And here, Ilian, who is now reconstructed as Joshua Pearl, commences his long search for lost memories to find not only himself but also Olia, herself now in exile who knows where and, like Ilian, reconstructed, with all her magic removed from her. How can they find each other?

Now the real magic, the lifeblood of this story, commences. Through a life in our dimension, including searing experiences in the Second World War, with stray scraps of knowledge, fact and memory, dropping slow like peace in Lake Isle of Innisfree, gradually forming ‘tokens of truth’, Joshua reconstructs his story, Olia’s story and their lost days together. And a conclusion is reached, unexpected yet inevitable, moving and bitter-sweet.

This is a beautifully-worked narrative which will live long in the memory. Timothée de Fombelle is plainly a fine writer, with a supple, sinewy style which is nevertheless capable of poetic beauty. Such a story could not work unless told by a highly accomplished writer. The translation does the original full justice. But the story is more than that. it is a remarkable concept in its own right and its fantasy is held in tight check by a writer who has a subtle appreciation of form. Style and construction: I’ve seldom found such a good match between the two.

I will be surprised if this extraordinary novel does not become a classic. It is certainly a ‘one-off’. I have never read anything quite like it and I think it will be a long time before I find anything to match its unique power, scope and sense of satisfaction at the end.


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