Thumping good yarns
Christina Hardyment on the latest adventure stories for older children
Saturday 08 April 1995
The good news is that the traditionally high standard of British writing for young people is being maintained. Outstanding in a strong field is Lesley Howarth's Weather Eye (Walker, £8.99), an all too plausible millenial tale of increasingly catastrophic weather conditions catalogued and coped with by an international children's internet society. Telly's family run a windfarm on the edge of Cornwall in 1999, and an accidental blow to her head from a falling turbine blade gives her a brief taste of supernatural powers. Suddenly, she can drive a car, walk as if she wore seven-league- boots, and predict to the minute the time people will die. Managing all these wonders in the context of a totally believable Cornish setting with a degree of suspense and pace that would do credit to Raymond Chandler is no mean feat, but Howarth brings it off triumphantly, and to good purpose, when the calm after the great storm finally descends.
Malorie Blackman's Thief (Doubleday, £9.99) starts in classic school story territory with new girl Lydia implicated as a thief by the school bitch. But then Lydia finds herself in a future world in which her brother, 50 years older and still deeply resentful of the slight to his sister, is running a fascist state. Unlikely, but it works, again because of the author's skill in maintaining the elusive balance between authenticity and fantasy. There is also plenty of room to make points about the implications of surveillance technology, a computer-dominated age with no books and an oppressed underclass.
Janice Brown's A Dangerous Place (Lions Tracks, £3.99) is also set in the future, but the nub of the plot is the all too logical extension of a world in which a few rich are getting indecently richer, and a large number of poor are becoming not only poverty-stricken but unemployable. In a Bonfire of the Vanities scenario, a pupil at an lite training academy for the much-feared and all powerful ruling Corps falls from grace and finds himself hunted and shorn of identity in the urban jungle. Self-recognition comes slowly, inspired by a chance gift of the poems of Robert Frost, and a lifetime's complacent assumptions are contradicted by events. A slightly longer, meatier book would have done more justice to the variety and vividness of Brown's characterisation, but the conclusion pulls no punches.
Andrew Davies's Conrad's War (Penguin, £9.99) is a light-hearted spoof of the Biggles genre, a witty tale of a war-mad boy and his father (a fine self-parodying portrait of the artist as a tubby middle-aged playwright) who share dreams. First they find themselves in a home-made tank that has metamorphosed into a real Centurion and flattened the garage, and then in the cockpit of the Airfix Lancaster bomber, with only half a plastic navigator to guide them over Nuremburg. Captured after crashing (model parachutes don't work too well), Conrad is all set for a heroic escape from Colditz, but finds his fellow prisoners less ambitiously pre-occupied with football. Finally, his shamblingly ineffective father does in fact save the day (an almost unique achievement in the annals of modern fictional parenthood), but Conrad turns unrepentantly to even more horrific schemes for getting his quota of kicks.
Finally, younger children who enjoy series novels will lap up Toby Forward's Wyvern quartet (Wyvern Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, published by Anderson at £8.99 each), vividly illustrated by Michael Foreman. Wyverns are part snakes, part dragons - the word is country parlance for viper - and they haunt the village of Herpeton from the church steeple to the gateposts of ghostly Wyvern Manor. Young Thomas Ketch has inherited the gift of handling them, but are the mysterious new vicar Weaver and the ambiguous Felicity Aylmer goodies or baddies? Layers of history are unfolded with a good many secret passages, locked doors and cunningly concealed clues. But Toby Forward is no C S Lewis, and for all its energetic rattling of magic, his lost medieval world lacks the resonance of Narnia.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he'd killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' close to camp
This house and dental clinic 'piled up like bricks on the brink of collapsing' is why Japan wins at architecture
Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
James Cameron hypes up Avatar sequels: 'You will s**t yourself with your mouth wide open'
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Ed Miliband's 'north London set' must be demolished to save Labour, say critics
Green Party Caroline Lucas interview: 'We could be on the edge of something very big'