Thumping good yarns

Christina Hardyment on the latest adventure stories for older children

Once it was Biggles, Malory Towers and sagas of school holidays that kept children's noses stuck into their books until well after lights were officially out. There are echoes of all these in this new crop of adventure stories, but much has changed. Weather, wizards and strife- torn future worlds are now the dominant themes. Fear is to the fore, distorting today's everyday anxieties into tomorrow's nightmares. It is harder to get away from parents than it used to be, and the said parents are inadequate and preoccupied characters - overweight, out of work and mysteriously ill - rather than calmly responsible dignitaries to whom young adventurers could report missions accomplished. And even in a batch of books carefully selected for action rather than introspection, there are shards of that amateur psychologising that the critic Michele Landsberg derided so aptly as "biblio-therapy" in her classic World of Children's Books (1988).

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.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game