With the present looking dodgy and the future perhaps worse, writers seeking to provide young readers with good, cheerful stories seem increasingly drawn towards the past. Their positive young characters are often tougher, if not better, than their counterparts now, mainly because they have already had to bear so much hardship in order to come through so far as decent human beings.
Such at any rate is William Paynel, the 14-year old hero of this spirited tale, set in an ancient abbey that is both cold and poor, and where the tastiest dish is rook pie, cooked by a drunken one-eyed monk with hate in his heart. William, hired to do odd jobs after losing his parents in a fire, rescues a grateful hobgoblin from a man-trap. Imaginary friends made real by the powers of fiction don't come much better than this brave and resourceful hairy companion, and William's lonely life takes a turn for the better.
But there is also a sinister place in the woods where years ago an angel is reported to have been killed and buried. The two friends become involved in a dangerous quest, up against various dark lords of the fairy world. Help is also at hand from a mysterious leper seeking relief and his chilly attendant, Fay, who, fortunately for everyone, possesses magical powers.
A glossary explains various monastic terms, and there are plenty of references to other details of living in 1347, in which this story is set. But this opportunity for extra learning is carried very lightly, with the main emphasis on taking the story forward. The author is an archaeologist, putting her skills to good use in the scene where the angel is finally dug up. She has artfully allowed herself space for a sequel featuring further adventures of William and the unwilling Fay, who is now bound to serve him. So welcome an exciting new talent in children's fantasy, which always has room for one more story when the writing is good and the imagination fresh.Reuse content