Children's Books Special: Fantasy <br></br>The Opal Deception<br></br>The Beasts of Clawstone Castle<br></br>Septimus Heap - Magyk<br></br>The New Policeman<br></br>Greater Gains

Lands without time, evil necromancers, ghost-haunted halls: Felix Reade finds a lot to enjoy in this summer's reads - even if he ran into a few clichés along the way
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The Independent Culture

This is the latest in the Artemis Fowl adventures, and it starts a bit slowly. Artemis is a morally improved character but still has little hesitation in attempting to steal the item most wanted by thieves all over the world: "The Fairy Thief" by Hervé, a well- known painter. Colfer has written this so that knowledge of the previous books is unnecessary yet, after a matter of pages, very much desired. This is a very appealing book for younger people and a wholly satisfying action thriller: the concept of a child criminal mastermind is always appealing to an escapist child. Despite this, it has not got the imagination and originality of the previous Artemis Fowl books, which I thought were very good.

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson (MACMILLAN £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

Two siblings, Madlyn and Rollo, are sent to their uncle's castle in the Scottish highlands. They soon realise that Clawstone is, in fact, inhabited by ghosts who have a friendly relationship with the owners, and that the penniless owner has no money to feed his pride and joy - the mystical Clawstone cattle. Madlyn, being a natural financial advisor, manages to turn the prospects around by utilising a gang of ghosts and the empty halls of Clawstone castle. It was another slightly slow starter but it was pretty funny, the idea was good and Ibbotson executed it well. This book is mainly suitable for eight- to 14-year-olds but might be fun for some younger readers.

Septimus Heap - Magyk by Angie Sage (BLOOMSBURY £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

Unfortunately I cannot admit to being captivated by this book - far from it, in fact. A long, hard slog to get merely a quarter of the way through did not seem promising - though it did end by increasing the pace. A poor family in a medieval city run by a dictator, the "supreme custodian", find a baby who turns out to be the old queen's heir. The family keeps hidden the identity of the young newly-found girl from baddies such as the evil necromancer DomDaniel. I would not recommend this book to many, but for six- to nine-year olds (who do not recognise and therefore do not instantly dislike the clichés), it could be interesting.

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (BODLEY HEAD £10.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

A beautifully original book from Kate Thompson , this had many wonderful ideas from Irish mythology. It's about a boy who goes missing because he travels into the realms of Tir na n'Og - the fairytale realm of Celtic legend. And in that place nothing seems urgent for there is no time. Two things which may deter some readers, and which seem unnecessary, are the complicated Irish names - very difficult to pronounce - and the Irish tunes noted at the end of each chapter. This was an impressive novel, perfect for people aged between 11 and 16, especially those with an interest in Irish music.

Greater Gains by K M Peyton DAVID FICKLING £10.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

This was my favourite of the lot, and I was blessed with some quite good reads. It is the story of a family who are split up for various reasons including deportation, death and marriage. Though the book ends happily, it is full of darkness and lots of treachery and infidelity. This is a fantastic read for ages 10 to 16. The subtlety of the plot may be quite frustrating to begin with but it pays off at the end, and I liked the way the baddy wasn't obvious from the start. I would happily recommend this to anyone.

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