Category Archives: Historical Fantasy

New series : The Battles of Ben Kingdom by Andrew Beasley

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The claws of evil by Andrew Beasley. (The battles of Ben Kingdom; book 1). Published by Usborne, 2013. Paperback, 329 pages. ISBN: 9781409544005. Available in bookstores NZ rrp$20.95 now (also in Wheelers and Overdrive ebook platforms!)

From the publisher:

Welcome to Victorian London; the home of the Artful Dodger, Sherlock Holmes…and Ben Kingdom, cocky street urchin – and the saviour of mankind. Unknown to mere mortals, an ancient battle is being waged across the city. Below the streets lurk the Legion, an evil gang of miscreants and criminals in league with the monstrous Feathered Men – determined to unleash Hell on the streets of London. Above the city’s rooftops soar the Watchers, a ragtag band of orphans, mystics and spies, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and guarding London against evil. Only Ben can put an end to this war – the only problem is, he doesn’t know which side to choose.

What did I think of this book?

I have loved Usborne publications for years – but I have been more familiar with their excellent non-fiction titles (these are wonderful resources for my students carrying out inquiry as the books are beautifully laid out and well supported by web and other up to date resources). This is the first of two new fiction titles I have read recently and I will be looking out for more from this publisher (watch out for a review of another excellent girls realistic fiction title which will be up on this blog soon…)

Back to the Claws of evil…Victorian setting. Check. Rip roaring adventure. Check. Excellent writing. Check. Appeal to voracious readers. Check. Good versus evil. Check. These are just some of the elements that make me want to tell my students about this book.This book was talked about a lot prior to publication and this one lives up to all the enthusiastic pre publicity excitement.

From lovereadingforkids.co.uk: Everybody at Usborne is incredibly excited to be publishing The Claws of Evil, the first book in a stunning new series The Battles of Ben Kingdom. I started reading this book on a plane journey from Italy but was quickly transported to the rooftops of Victorian London, where an age-long battle takes place between the mysterious Watchers and the brutal Legion. Only our hero, Ben Kingdom, can put an end to this war, and the dilemma at the heart of this brilliant novel is that he doesn’t know which side to choose.Imaginative, captivating and fast-paced, Andrew has created colourful characters with real heart. Blending steampunk invention with nail-biting adventure, we believe this is the sort of fiction that will get readers talking. We hope you love it as much as we do!

It is wonderful when the author has an interesting story of their own. I was fascinated to read about the things that influenced Andrew on his author page on the website of UK bookseller Foyles.

Blame Sherlock Holmes.

I have always had a fascination with the Victorian era, and London in particular. There is something so fascinating, so gloriously tantalising, about those murky cobblestones and the swirling fog. I was very young when I first read Conan Doyle and I remember my feelings when I found myself in that age of great invention and glorious adventure, and yet tinged with darkness too, in those dangerous alleyways and crime-ridden tenements. It proved an irresistible combination to my young mind, and the obvious choice of setting for my series – The Battles of Ben Kingdom.

Andrew goes on to talk about other things that have influenced him including his own experience of homelessness “Unfortunately, in many respects, the London of Ben Kingdom is a mirror of London today. Homelessness is on the rise. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that as many as 100,000 children become detached from their families each year in the UK and have to fend for themselves. 30,000 of those will be twelve years old or younger. One in six of them will sleep rough. Suddenly, the historical past collides with the present. I could rewrite The Claws of Evil with a contemporary setting and it would still ring true.” Click on the link at the end of this post to read this fascinating account in full.

The book is very much about choices; the choice between good and evil is not so easy when the main protagonist doesn’t have all the facts. It is interesting to be the reader watching from the sidelines, willing the character to take action based on the information that you the reader has from having read both the point of view of the good (the Watchers) and the Bad (the Legion) – never has that felt so apparent for me when reading a book as with this one. Even stranger, is that right from the start of the story Ben is convinced that the Winged Man is evil incarnate while the Evil Professor can help him. If this were a pantomime or stage show children would be yelling to the actors from the audience!

There are so many elements of great fantasy here; firstly the prophecy held by both sides who are waiting for the child that is destined to change the world by leading their side; the mystical coin that the legion needs to complete their plans (it also seems to possess everyone that comes into contact with it, including Ben); a subterranean community of “outsiders” living below London’s streets; people and creatures with amazing physical powers running along the rooftops; magical hideous monstrous creatures with murderous blood letting intent. Plenty for kids to get their teeth into and one that will appeal to many girls as well as boys because of the well developed secondary characters of both sexes.

The second book in the series is due out in September.

LINKS:

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Sequel success: Ash Mistry and the City of Death by Sarwat Chadda

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Ash Mistry and the City of Death by Sarwat Chadda. (Ash Mistry Chronicles ; 2). Published by HarperCollins Childrens Books, 2013. Paperback, 320 pages. ISBN: 9780007447374

Publisher’s synopsis:

Ash Mistry is leading a pretty complicated life. There’s school, his unrequited crush on girl-next-door Gemma… and then there’s the fact that he’s the reincarnation of the great Indian hero Rama, not to mention the small detail that he died last year, and came back as an agent of the goddess of death.

So when the demon servants of the evil Lord Savage come after Gemma in order to get to Ash, you’d think he’d be ready to take them on.

But Lord Savage still has some tricks up his sleeve. And with Gemma out of the picture, the English villain is closer than ever to finding a magical aastra of his own, and the power to rule the world. It’s time for Ash to go up against his enemy once again. Luckily, as the human embodiment of the kali-aastra, Ash can find the weak points in any living thing and kill it. But the key word there is ‘living’. And little does Ash know that Lord Savage has mastered another branch of magic – one which allows him to create whole armies out of un-living stone…

What do I think about this sequel?

This book is fantastic – if anything I found this even better than the first – it’s tighter and expertly paced. Kids that love rip-roaring-seat of your pants adventure will LOVE this: it’s got villains trying to stay immortal but young again, the hindu version of Goloms, demon shark monsters, betrayal, redemption, loss, friendship – but mainly action. This would make a fantastic movie.

My only note of concern….once again publisher’s age recommendation is 9+. This is very violent with LOTS of killing – I recommend this for MATURE 10+  and I would be warning kids/parents/teachers as I talk about it with them. The violence didn’t worry any of my readers of the last book (Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress) as it does seem ‘in context’ with the Hindu myths and legends and also the belief in reincarnation (and Karma). Even so, I don’t want any of my students having nightmares. I loved this – it was awesome!

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The Queen must die – K.A.S. Quinn

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The Queen must die by K.A.S. Quinn. (Chronicles of the Tempus; book 1), Published by Corvus (Atlantic Books), 2011. Paperback, 298 pages.

From the publisher:

…Why is Katie Berger-Jones-Burg under a sofa in Buckingham Palace? The last thing she can remember is reading in her bedroom, trying to block out the sound of the TV. Now she is in London, at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign. Something very strange is going on.

Together with her two new friends – Princess Alice, the young daughter of Queen Victoria, and James O’Reilly, the son of the royal doctor – Katie must discover why she has been sent back in time. And who are the weird and frightening creatures who seek her out? The key, it seems, lies with the enigmatic Bernardo DuQuelle. As the dark forces moving through the royal household begin to take control, Katie and her friends uncover a plot to assassinate the Queen and unearth an even darker mystery…[Suspicious figures huddle in the gas-lit streets of London. And Katie is not the only time-traveller in the city… ]

Reviews and praise:

“Completely gripping, this rollercoaster time travel adventure takes Katie, a contemporary New York teenager, back right into the heart of Queen Victoria’s reign. Landing unexpectedly in the Buckingham Palace bedroom of Alice, Queen Victoria’s younger daughter, Katie is swiftly caught up in a terrifying world of dishonest courtiers plotting unspeakable acts with the help of powerful helpers with extra powers. The details of the life of the Victorian Royals, and especially Prince Albert’s passion for his original project of the Crystal Palace are brilliantly evoked while the adventure spearheaded by three exuberant children rattles along at a cracking pace” Lovereading4kids.co.uk

What did I think about this book?

I confess to having spent rather a long stretch on my sofa in the sun, reading this from cover to cover and luxuriating in the world the author has created. I loved it – I am not sure whether I am addicted to books set in Victorian London or whether there is a trend to use this setting in children’s books at the moment…maybe both. It means that there are some great books being written about this era, however this is very different than others set in this period, because this is set inside Buckingham Palace. This means there aren’t a lot of Dickensian allusions and impoverished characters, although there are plenty with sinister motives and villainous characters with evil intent. Katie Berger-Jones-Burg’s 21st Century New York life, and her dismay at the seemingly shallow obsessions of her ‘Mom’ are contrasted nicely with the formal and ‘proper’ nature of Victorian life at Court and couldn’t be more striking (and amusing!) However the similarity between Katie and Princess Alice are obvious – both have mothers that aren’t particularly maternal, and both have to live their lives relatively independently and are lonely. The time travel mechanism is handled well and it’s believable enough, especially if you are a reader who believes in the power of books as a means to escape. The reader is immersed in a great deal of historical material without feeling they are having a history lesson. It is fascinating seeing this time period through the eyes of Katie, who is like a modern day tourist guide to the past. Some of the things American readers might find amusing won’t have the same impact with a New Zealand audience, but it’s so well done, you can laugh along with Katie as she experiences cricket, victorian clothing and underwear and  chamber pots under the bed.

This book is the first in a planned trilogy, with the second book “The Queen at War” released recently. I wish I could convince more boys to read stories where the main character is a girl as this was a great read and highly recommended for the 10+ crowd.

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Deadweather and sunrise – The Chronicles of Egg

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Deadweather & Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey (the Chronicles of Egg ;1) Published by Puffin, 2012. 288 p. Available in NZ bookshops rrp $19.99.

From the publisher:

A stunning middle-grade debut–full of heart, humor, and nonstop action

“It’s tough to be thirteen, especially when somebody’s trying to kill you.

Not that Egg’s life was ever easy, growing up on sweaty, pirate-infested Deadweather Island with no company except an incompetent tutor and a pair of unusually violent siblings who hate his guts.

But when Egg’s father hustles their family off on a mysterious errand to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island, then disappears with the siblings in a freak accident, Egg finds himself a long-term guest at the mansion of the glamorous Pembroke family and their beautiful, sharp-tongued daughter Millicent. Finally, life seems perfect.

Until someone tries to throw him off a cliff.

Suddenly, Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy.

Come along for the ride. You’ll be glad you did.”

Book trailer:

Geoff Rodkey talking about this book:

What do I think about this book?

Loved it! Seriously good adventurous, romping, swashbuckling good fun! The author mentioned (in his video interview above) that people had told him they thought the book felt like a younger version of the Princess bride and I can see why they would think that. I thought this book had so many great elements, that the reader couldn’t pin down all the influences, making it feel like a highly original story. There is a subtle quirkiness to this story… a very slight ‘Lemony Snickett type change of circumstance’ that you sense rather than acutely observe, with some humour there as well. The jokes and humour aren’t as obvious as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean either…more that when you read about the pirates there is a little barely suppressed giggle you feel bubbling up from deep inside. The book is a fantasy, given it is set in a made up land and time, but because it is without any magical or supernatural elements it feels realistic and spookily historically accurate (sort of!) It is so cleverly done that I am struggling to describe why I found it so readable…it just is fantastic…

I started this and then just had to read through to the end – when I got to the last page I felt like I had been in the story with the characters. It is an absolutely delightful book and I could see it being a runaway hit as a movie (provided a director could make it look as wonderful as the story I saw in my imagination). Boys and girls will both thoroughly enjoy this book. Egg is a great character that I really liked from page one and he’s pretty brave so boys will think they are reading a “boys book”, but Millicent is an eccentric, strong, feisty and principled character that girls will love too.

Recommended 9+ by the publisher but would be a good read up to year 8/9. This is the first book in a planned trilogy, the second book is out mid year.

Highly recommended!

Author website (very funny and quirky): http://geoffrodkey.com

Jack you’re not an ordinary boy…’Sorrowline’ an exciting adventure

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Sorrowline by Niel Bushnell. (The Timesmith chronicles), Published by Andersen Press, 2013.  331 pages. Available in NZ bookstores RRP $20.95.

“You have a rare gift Jack: you’re a yard boy, a voyager through graveyards. You can travel through the Sorrowlines. They’re tunnels, tunnels through time. Every grave, it’s connected to the date of the person’s death by a Sorrowline. Yard Boys like you, Jack – they can open up a Sorrowline and travel along it, right into the past.”

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jack Morrow is used to life being complicated. His mother died five years ago, and his father is now headed for prison. But then Jack discovers he’s a Yard Boy – someone with the ability to travel through Sorrowlines, the channels that connect every gravestone with the date of the person’s death – and he is quickly pulled into an adventure beyond anything he could have possibly imagined. Finding himself in 1940s war-torn London, with his then – teenage grandfather, Davey, Jack soon realises that his arrival in the past has not gone unnoticed. The evil forces of a secret world are determined to find him – and to find out all he knows. As Jack struggles to survive, he comes ever closer to unlocking the dark secret at the heart of his family, and to – just maybe – changing his own destiny…

Book trailer:

What did I think of this book?

There are quite a few original elements that make this different from other time travel books, but plenty of things that will make readers feel they are in comfortable and familiar territory. The time travel method of traveling back to a period of time tied to a person’s date of death is new – it makes for some excitement in the story because if the characters need to travel to a particular date then they need to find a gravestone first (or get chased around a graveyard while they look for one!)  The other thing that is noticeably different about this story is that the period in which a lot of the book is set is in the 1940s during the Blitz in London. This seems very vividly drawn and well described and adds another frisson of fear into the story – before the villain catches up with our hero Jack, he could be blown to bits by a bomb or trapped in debris or a burning building. It is here that Jack meets his own Grandfather as a young man and Jack learns more about his family.

The contrast between Jack’s seemingly ordinary life in 2013 London couldn’t be more different than what he experiences in the past. It is here that we find the fantastical elements of an alternate world story with many interesting characters with unusual roles both good and bad along the way.

I think this will be a hit with many of my students – the blend of fantasy world, time travel and modern day adventure will appeal to the kids who enjoy Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicle’s type adventures.

A theory of Time Travel – if you are interested in the science behind the “time travel paradox” you might find this YouTube video of an interview with Dr Ronald Mallett (a theoretical physicist) interesting. I found this brief article from brainpickings.org here: “Einstein, Goedel, and the science of time travel (or Meeting your future grandchildren in a rotating universe) by Maria Popova, brainpickings.org 19 July 2012″.

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More Victorian chills….A very unusual pursuit

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A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jinks. (City of orphans; book 1). Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013. 360 pages. Available in NZ bookstores now: rrp $18.99

‘A bogle’s a bogle. I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

From the publisher:

Monsters have been bothering Londoners for centuries, and the only solution is to call in the experts. Alfred Bunce, the bogler, has a ten-year-old apprentice, Birdie McAdam. With her beautiful voice and dainty appearance, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. Then one life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of young pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared in unsettling circumstances. Edith Eames is an educated lady who’s studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Birdie soon realises that her very livelihood is under threat, as Miss Eames tries to persuade Alfred that there must be a more ‘scientific’ way of killing bogles.  But only with Miss Eames’s help, can Birdie save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and defeat an altogether nastier villain, the treacherous Doctor Morton, and vanquish a terrifying and deadly bogle. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia’s most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

What do I think about this book?

I absolutely love this cover…. it is a really great introduction to the mood of this story. From the very first page of this book I was plunged headfirst into the dark, dank and dangerous world that was Victorian London. The children of London’s poor, often orphans, had to work at a very young age and tended to be employed in very dangerous occupations – sweeping chimneys and cleaning sewers. Sometimes children were illegally ’employed’ by Fagan type characters called “gangers” running gangs of urchins to pick the pockets of unsuspecting passersby and to steal from shops, stalls and houses. Add some very scary ‘bogles” (monsters or goblins or the bogeymen that hide in chimneys and sewers) to their already dangerous lives, and working children would be terrified.

The language and writing is superb – I love the way the author presents a throughly convincing and authentic feeling Victorian environment while at the same time weaving a very believable fantasy. At first I was a little worried that some of my young readers would be put off by the dialogue which gives this story a real Dickensian tone, but once immersed in the story the language really adds to the depth of the plot. The reader is aided by a glossary of terms at the end of the book, but even without using this the reader is carried along with the contextual clues in the text.

…from chapter 5…(Miss Eames is showing Alfred and Birdie pictures of water monsters known as Grindylows, Jenny Greenteeth, or Peg Powler…)

She thrust the book under Alfred’s nose, so sharply that he recoiled. When Birdie rushed to join him, she saw that the pages had fallen open at a picture of a creature – half hag, half troll – with long, tangled hair and a ragged cloak on it’s back.

“‘That don’t look like no bogle I ever saw,’ Birdie commented, cocking her head to one side.

‘It is perhaps drawn from a verbal description,’ Miss Eames said delicately, ‘and not from life.’

‘A bogle’s a bogle.’ Alfred’s tone was gruff. ‘I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

‘Them sewer pipes is thick with bogles,’ Birdie added. ‘Ain’t that right, Mr Bunce?’ To Miss Eames she remarked, ‘It’s very likely me own Ma died on account of a bogle. She were a tosher, see, but left me in a drain one day, and no one’s seen her since.’

‘But how dreadful!’ Miss Eames looked quite shocked….

If I use the glossary I learn that a Tosher is a sewer scavenger, but I could have easily read on without checking this and I suspect many children reading would be too wrapped up in the story to stop! The story is full of characters with unusual occupations and unusual names, here are a few:  cadger, caffler, coal whipper, cracksman, griddler, hurrier, muck snipe and slavvy.

The characters are richly and vividly drawn. Alfred Bunce is rough but genuinely fond of Birdie, ensuring her support and loyalty later on in the story. Birdie is small and looks delicate with the face and voice of an angel, but is feisty, determined and brave. Miss Eames is rather proper and true to her class, her fascination with and belief in mystical creatures was common during the Victorian era, and she is motivated by kindness. The villains – Sarah Pickles and Doctor Morton are all too believable. The story is as much about Alfred and Jem (Birdie’s male friend), as it is about Birdie.

This historical fantasy will be a great read for children aged 9-12 who enjoyed Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones or Fire spell (Splendors and Glooms) by Laura Amy Schlitz,  and I think my students will really enjoy this book.  Boys who don’t tend to read stories where the main character is a girl will miss out on a thrilling adventure with great suspense.

I will be ordering a copy of this for our library. The copy I read was an advance review copy supplied by the publisher (thank you Allen & Unwin!).  This is the first book in a planned trilogy (the second book is due to be published July 2013 with the final installment due early 2014.) I am really looking forward to the next exciting installment in this trilogy!

Link to author website: http://www.catherinejinks.com

Link to publisher website: http://www.allenandunwin.com

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Bold plots and treason – The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

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The False prince (Book 1 in the Ascendance trilogy) by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Scholastic Press, 2012.

From the publisher:

In a faraway land, civil war is brewing. To unify the kingdom’s divided people, a nobleman named Connor devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him on the throne. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant and clever boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. His rivals will be devising their own plots as well, so Sage must trust no one and keep his thoughts hidden.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfolds, until finally, a truth is revealed that that may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

Book trailer:

What do I think about this book?

This is an adventurous, swashbuckling romp that will appeal to a lot of my 10+ readers, both boys and girls. I had heard a lot of great things about this story and I was not disappointed, in fact I couldn’t put it down and read it over two days while on holiday. Even though this book is published by the teen division of Scholastic, I don’t feel it only needs to be in the Middle/Senior section of our library. The sequels may contain a bit more of a love interest but thus far our hero’s intentions are all honourable.

My advice – read this before the sequel (The Runaway king) comes out in March and before the first part of the trilogy is made into a movie. Paramount has acquired the film rights, but not sure how long it is before we see this on the big screen!

Teacher resources:

Teach mentor texts: http://networkedblogs.com/J5bbz (added 10 March 2013)

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