The Demon Collector by Jon Mayhew

The Demon Collector is another of the great covers that has caught my eye whilst working at Waterstones, and it’s always nice to find a little fantasy-meets-mystery by a great English author. So I gave it a go, and found an action-packed and tense novel with brilliant gothic overtones and wonderfully developed characters…

The Demon Collector

The book opens following main character, orphan Edgy Taylor, who lives his day to day life in 1854 collecting manure from the streets for his master, the tanner Talon, whom Edgy had always been able to see as a cloven hoofed demonic creature, even if no-one else can, where his only friend is his little dog Henry. One day while collecting his filthy workload, he meets a young boy, around his own age, racing through the streets, terrified. Before dying in Edgy’s arms, the stranger gifts him an inscribed triangle of bone. Only moments later, and he meets an enigmatic and mysterious women who seems to know all about him… Back at the tannery, he meets a professor by the name of Janus, who has come to visit Talon. Professor Janus explains to Edgy that demons are an ancient and evil part of the world, and that Edgy has a very rare gift, the ability to see Demons through their various devious guises to trick humans. After dispatching Talon, Janus inducts Edgy to the Royal Society of Demonologie, an old established order who study and examine demons. Here he finds that not all demons are evil, and some have fallen to sin so highly that they’re almost human themselves, be it the lazy Sloth demon or the ever jealous demon of Envy. It is also here that Edgy makes his first friends beyond Henry, the professor Janus, a young dead girl who haunts the society and a paranoid demon who curates the societies collection. He agrees to help Janus on his quest for the Arch-Demon Moloch, the demon who attempted to overthrow Satan himself. According to legend, Moloch had his heart removed for his treachery, and was buried on the Earth in a location known only to Satan. He entrusted to heart to his wife, the enigmatic Salomé, who Edgy had met the day he fell into the world of demons. Salomé took the heart, and stored it away on Earth as well, and once every thirteen years, she must produce it to Satan, to satisfy him that Moloch has not returned. Salomé continues to harass Edgy at every turn he makes, sending demons after him, and tripping him up with riddles, but eventually, him and his friends solve the mystery of Moloch’s whereabouts, and on an epic voyage to the north they endeavour to cement the Professor’s reputation by being the first people to prove the existence of an arch-demon. But not everything is as it should be, and soon Edgy is left to wonder who is friend and who is foe, and are demons really ever worse than humans at all?

The Demon Collector is a delightful fantasy, with a nice sense of fun, mystery and tension all rolled into one. I’ve never read Jon Mayhew’s previous title Mortlock, and while the books are (so I’m told) related by some recurring characters, I’m happy to say that it’s not required to have read it to understand The Demon Collector. Far from it in fact, since through demon’s histories, professor Janus’ explanations and various mythological passages, the back story of the demon world and all it’s idiosyncrasies are laid out in a twisting way that offers up clues to the mystery, and leaves the reader in no-way confused about the books world. The book also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a must for any title set in such a dark world. Characters and their interactions are warm and caring, funny and ultimately captivating. Edgy in particular is such an unpretentious, curious and engaging character that his mission, and his emotions, are instantly taken to heart by the reader, and this makes the twists and turns of the plot all the more captivating. As for the plot itself (since we were there anyway!), it’s a great mystery with plenty of cliffhangers and puzzles to be solved, steeped in a feeling of Gothic fancy and ancient demonic lore.  The scale starts of simple and humbling, but soon Edgy finds himself in a massive world beyond his comprehension, and the story drops into the realms of epic fantasy journey at the halfway point.

All in all, I would highly recommend The Demon Collector to kids and adults alike. It’s a fantastic gateway into other fantasy novels, be it His Dark Materials, The Hobbit or David Eddings. This is sure to get a lot of kids hooked onto fantasy writing for life, and brings through the warmth and humour that resides in a usually unfairly viewed genre.

’till next time!

D

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Across the Universe by Beth Revis

When I first read the blurb for Beth Revis’ science-fiction novel, I was genuinely impressed. Finally, a combination of two of my favourite genres, science-fiction and young adult, and set in space. A definite winner, I though. And I was not disappointed!

The Cover for Across the Universe

To solve the overcrowding population on a future Earth, the ship Godspeed is being sent on a 300 year journey to a distant planet, in the hopes of founding a new human colony. Amy’s parents are vital crew members, frozen for the full extent of the journey, along with hundreds of other brilliant scientists, tacticians and important experts involved in establishing a new human settlement. Amy however, is non-vital, only included in the frozen members of the ship’s cargo because she couldn’t bear to live on Earth without them. Throughout Godspeed’s journey, it will be maintained by generation to generation of on-board scientists and farmers, who will live their entire lives serving the frozen crew until they reach their destination. But frozen life is not calm or peaceful, and Amy has horrible, real dreams. Until she awakens. But there is no-one there to great her, and the ship is still on course. Then she meets the ship’s current leader, Eldest, and his protégée Elder, and learns the horrible truth: Someone tried to kill her unplugging her tank. 250 years after she left. Learning that she cannot be refrozen, she quickly realises that she left her home to be with her parents, whom she will most likely now outlive. Her only hope to remain sane is to integrate herself into Godspeed’s new society. But even that isn’t as simple as she would hope… After 250 years of little genetic diversity, controlled breeding, and a mysterious plague, the crew of Godspeed all look alike, dark hair, tanned skin, and live in a complacent world of following the orders set down by Eldest. Anyone who shows any signs of rebellion, freethinking or creativity is labelled insane, and locked up in the ships hospital. Amy, with her passion for life, her vibrant red hair, pale skin and green eyes, could not be more different to the norm, so Eldest sends her to the hospital, away from his perfectly balanced society, leaving Elder to keep an eye on her. Elder however, has been keeping an eye on Amy from day one, he’s fascinated by her, and through her, he’s starting to see the holes in the ship’s perfect society. When another, more successful murder attempt occurs amongst the frozen members of the crew, Amy fears for the life of her parents, and with the help of Elder’s access to the ship, she plans on getting to the bottom of everything…

I think Across the Universe may be unfairly viewed by a cursory glance, and so I’m hoping anyone who reads this will take my advice on-board: It isn’t regular teen romance, nor is it Twilight in space. A far cry from it. What Across the Universe in fact is a clever social commentary, with themes of dystopia harking to a 1984 style level of control and unquestioning loyalty to a regime. The plot is a thick, deeply twisted a layered mystery, with both characters objectives merging into one in an unexpected turn that is brilliantly executed and clearly well thought out. The characters especially help bring the story through, lending it superb emotional weight. Amy’s journey from depression and bleakness to rebellion and determination really drive the narrative and give the reader a sense of drive to reach the conclusion with her, while Elder’s sense of naive curiosity soon develops into a real revolutionary spirit, burning with desire for the truth. Eldest is a twisted wreck, and watching his struggle to do what is right and what must be done is a great reflection on the perils of leadership, and social constructs designed to separate and label people. The book also examines the idea of the younger generation attempting to change the life work of hundreds of years of injustice and poor judgement, something which I think it’s important for young people to realise they have the power to do. The book also discusses the perils of science, and more importantly, the idea that just because we can do something, doesn’t always mean we should. In this case, especially in the case of controlling an entire populations brain chemistry, genetics and genealogy, which with the route today’s scientific advancements are making, are issues we all need to be well aware of sooner rather than later.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the review, please pick it up at a Book-store near you.

D

 

Department 19 by Will Hill

I’m back! Christmas is coming to the lovely Waterstones Northallerton, and we’ve got some great temps in this year, the decorations are all hung, and even the most cynical of hearts is going to warm! I promise.

I actually got Department 19 as my very FIRST proof from a publisher, the superb Harper Collins, around this time last year. I read a brief blurb in their industry rag, the Harper Insider, and decided it couldn’t hurt to send them an email. Very soon, a lovely bound, uncorrected proof was in my hands, and I was very excited. It sounded just my sort of thing: Vampires, Violence and Government Cover-ups! I reviewed it at the time, which can be seen here, but then it was included in the WCBP2012 longlist, so I thought, for such a great book, I’d give it a revisit!

Jamie Carpenter’s father was killed in his front garden when he was just a boy. Gunned down by government operatives in sleek black uniforms. He was a terrorist, Jamie was told, working from the inside of the British government, to bring horrible attacks to the innocent British people. Jamie and his mother had to move, again and again, all over the country. Where ever they went, rumours followed them, bullying started, and they had to move on. Now in his teens, Jamie is bitter, angry and resentful towards life, school, people and his mother. It’s all everyone else’s fault, his father wasn’t a terrorist, he was a good man, and Jamie knows that. Jamie spends too much time arguing with his mother to see she needs him, and too much time away from school. One night, after a long excursion to avoid another day of classes, Jamie is approached by a mysterious girl in the park. Small, skinny and pale, she mocks him with her mischievous dark eyes, before letting him pass. When he gets home, his mother is gone, and the house is dark. Then Jamie meets Frankenstein. THE Frankenstein. And everything he ever knew gets turned upside down. His father was not a terrorist, he worked for the shadowy government agency called Department 19. Bram Stoker had been right all along. Vampires are real. The pace turns up then, One of Dracula’s (the first vampire) henchmen, is trying to resurrect the Dark Prince, and has Jamie’s mother to help in the process. The Department have captured one of the Vampire gang who kidnapped Jamie’s mother: The pale, skinny girl he met that night… Larissa. So, with the knowledge that he has to stop the return of the most heinous Vampire known to man, and with a vampire and the lumbering creation of Dr. Frankenstein in tow, Jamie sets out.

I loved Department 19, the action is fast paced, the violence is HIGH, and the Vampires are just what they should be: Evil. I’m sorry, but I’m starting to get sick of Vampires becoming mysterious lovely strangers, and Twilight never cut it for me. This is a great title for boys who may well be interested in supernatural titles, who are put off by the fairly feminine imagery of other series. The main pulling point of this one, besides a great amount of action, is it’s dedicated to classical horror literature. It references the amazing Bram Stoker’s Dracula heavily, as well as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, which is a great way of introducing kids to some of the best horror literature of all time (if you are inspired kids, I also recommend some H.P. Lovecraft! Ia Ia!), and really lends to plot to Department 19 some depth and historical weight, which again is further built upon by some great, tense, flashback sections with a real sense of nostalgia for the old days of Vampire Hunting. Modern day, good dialogue helps none action sequences travel well, and character development is quick and simple, with the exception of Jamie (I’ll get to him in a minute). Like I said, the gore is high in this title, with Vampires torturing and massacring like it’s AD700, and it sets the Vamps up as proper bad guys, ruthless, merciless and souless. Alexandru, Dracula’s main man, is a brilliantly cold, superior being with a love of death and carnage, and makes a fantastic nemesis.

Now, the main complaint I’ve read/heard is that Jamie isn’t a very likeable character. People have told me his anger and complaining put them off, but I really warmed to him after a short time, and here’s why: His Dad is murdered. His Mum, the only remaining member of his family is in the hands of murderous vampires, I’d say he’s highly entitled to some rage and moaning times. I love Harry Potter, but boy does the kids go off on some frustrating rants from time to time. It’s expected, and it makes the characters more rounded individuals, so stop hating on Jamie, he’s a strong, compassionate character, with an awful lot stacked against him.

That is All.

D

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

A beautiful and intriguing title, I had been interested in reading My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece since we got it in as a hardback, so I was overjoyed when it was included on the longlist for the WCBP 2012, and it did not disappoint…

Paperback Cover

Jamie’s sister Rose died five years ago. But some of her still lives with them, in an urn on the mantelpiece. Her death (from a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square), has torn his family apart; His Mum has left them for her grief counselor,  his sister Jas (Rose’s twin) has stopped eating properly, and his Dad is slowly losing his mind to alcoholism. After moving  from London to the Lake District, things start to get worse for the family, despite the best intentions. Jamie fails to make many friends at school, in fact only one girl talks to him, the esoteric and enticing Sunya. But Jamie is torn, because everything his Dad has taught him goes against this: Sunya is a Muslim, and Muslim’s killed his sister. But Jamie doesn’t even remember Rose, and he certainly doesn’t miss her, and Sunya is the most wonderful girl he’s ever known, and the superhero M.Girl! Jamie embarks on a quest to make a friend, and respect his Dad’s wishes, and bring his family back together, and help all coming to terms with Rose’s death. A pretty tall order for a ten year old, but then, Jamie isn’t any old ten-year old… He’s Spiderman.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece really did blow me away. It was so uniquely written, with a style that is captivating and insular. The sense of Jamie’s innocence and positiveness towards life is infectious, but reading of the way he tries to juggle too much at once is so painful, it makes the whole story wonderfully three-dimensional. Sunya is a superb character, full of laughter, pain and intelligence, and the racism of Jamie’s upbringing is dealt with in such a slow and painful way, it’s anger-inducing to read. The reader really feels Jamie’s confusion and pain, and he’s a very lovable character, easy to relate to, which helps lend the story a huge amount of emotional impact. The constant downturns and teetering cliffhangers as chapters go by really does leave the most of the book as an emotional roller-coaster, it’s a fantastic way to keep the plot moving and keep the reader involved and truly caring about what happens to the characters. As the book draws towards its conclusion, the emotional levels draw to maximum, and Jamie’s sense of isolation becomes almost too much to bare. The conclusion is touching though, and an important message is woven through it, making it an ending that will be staying with me for a long long time. The writing in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is wonderful, descriptive and beautifully simple, helping bring some incredibly complex views out of the mouth and mind of a ten-year old boy, and building up a sense of loneliness and despair, as well as joy, friendship and hope. Annabel Pitcher has a real talent for working words to tug on heartstrings and captivate audiences, and at no point of this book did I feel bored or distanced from the scenarios in any way, quite the opposite, I really felt connected with the characters despite their flaws, weaknesses and mistakes.

I’d strongly recommend reading this one, for adults and teenagers alike, it teaches a very important idea that far too many people still need to learn about acceptance. And also, Sunya is a brilliant character, you’ll love her.

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Another week, another title for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2012 (Hereon referred to as the WCBP2012)!

Rather fittingly, this next title, is the spooktacular and creepsome (not words my dictionary recognizes, but whatever…) Long Lankin, the debut novel for Lindsey Barraclough, and I enjoyed every single second of it… Read on to find out why.

The Gorgeous Cover for Long Lankin

Set in post-WWII Southern England, Long Lankin is a ghost story of the highest English tradition. It follows the story of Cora, a young girl from London, and her even younger sister Mimi, who are sent to stay with their Auntie Ida in Guerdon Hall in the tiny country village of Bryers Guerdon, to help their father cope with work, and the apparent leaving of their mother, over the long summer holidays. Auntie Ida though, is not such pleasant company for two young girls, and starts laying down ground rules from the minute they step foot in her house: No opening windows, no going into the marshes at low tides, and absolutely no going down to the abandoned All Hallow’s Church at the end of the Chase. Trouble however, seems difficult for the girls to avoid, especially after meeting local boys Roger and Peter Jotman. Before they know what’s what, the girls are exploring the forbidden graveyard of the All Hallow’s Church. But there is an evil that lurks in that church… An ancient evil, that prays on the souls of children, and young Mimi has helped it wake up, and start to hunt. Soon, Cora and Roger are trapped in a web of deception and murder spanning back hundreds of years, and deeply tangled up in this web is Cora’s mother, her family and now her. She tries to turn to her Auntie Ida for answers, but her Auntie, overwhelmed by grief and memories, shuns her, forcing her to dig deep into the town’s history to uncover the truth behind the ghostly visions and mysterious singing she hears at night in Guerdon Hall. Who is Long Lankin? What is the dark shape that scratches at the door after dark? And what is the secret so dire that many would rather perish than face the horrible truth?

Building on the fantastic ghost story traditions of Susan Hill and M.R. James, Long Lankin is a tale that really is one of the most terrifyingly chilling stories I’ve read in a such a long time. It’s sense of suspense is surpassed perhaps only by it’s intricate mystery plot and deep, rich characters. The background of the Guerdon’s and their tragedy is teased out throughout flashbacks, letters and character interaction, constantly creating a hunger to read and uncover more, that really helps us as the reader to connect with Cora and her desperate struggle, first to understand, and later to protect. The flaws in the characters, particularly Ida Eastfield, are shocking and realistic, with some of the violence she inflicts on the children quite disconcerting in itself. The mystery and horror, and the every day post-war Britain are woven seamlessly to create a painfully contrasted sense of suppressed depression under a thin, strained image of happiness, and the setting fits the story perfectly. The descriptions are spot on, really bringing the setting to life, and helping create a sense of creeping dread that chills the spine and keeps your brain turning for hours afterwards. Long Lankin itself is such a horrible idea, it put me in mind of the creations of Hayao Miyazaki in Princess Mononoke, and the descriptive passages on the way it moves and acts really filled me with a gleeful feeling of revulsion. This is just what a good ghost story should be like, a strong, curious protagonist, and hideous embodiment of evil for an antagonist, and human beings at breaking point, pushed to their worst by the inability to cope with their emotions. Long Lankin pulls human drama, supernatural ghost story and ancient mystery to form one fantastic Young Adult title, which has enough punch to really entertain the adults too, which of course, all good YA lit should.

Happy Halloween Ya’ll!

D

The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook

I’m back! It’s been a busy few weeks for me, with not much reading getting done, and also, lots of re-reading of Harry Potter (Yay for Pottermore!), but now the big days are upon us, and it’s time for the longlist for the Waterstone’s Children’s Bookprize 2012! A very exciting time for me, as just barely into my first year as a Children’s bookseller for the company, and I’ve been chosen as one of 50 lucky enough to be provided with the full longlist of titles to read and review! I’m unbelievably happy about this situation, and also slightly daunted at the mighty task of tackling 40-something titles, even if some of them ARE picture books, but that’s just about my level of intellect anyway… ^_^

The first title I’ve tackled was The Windvale Sprites by British comedy actor Mackenzie Crook (best known from the award winning – and pants wettingly funny – The Office, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies).

The Cover for The Windvale Sprites

Set in 1987, against the backdrop of weatherman Michael Fish’s infamous failure to predict one of the UK’s worst hurricanes, it follows the story of Asa Brown, a young boy who finds, amid the destruction of his garden, the body of what appears to be a fairy. Unable to fight his curiosity, he endeavors to get to the bottom of this unusual find. Getting next to no information from either of his parents, and fearing ridicule from asking school-friends, he begins a single handed mission, starting where else, but at his local library! Here, he discovers the legend of a local scientist from two-hundred years ago, Benjamin Tooth. As the mystery of Tooth unravels, Asa decides he must capture one of the creatures alive, to accurately study. Under the pretense of a Biology Field Trip, he travels to the nearby moors while his parents are away, camping out, laying traps and exploring the old house of Benjamin Tooth. Sooner than expected, he has his prize, a live creature, which he takes back home to live in his greenhouse, all the while, studying the old scientist’s notes. To his horror though, he finds a darker secret to Tooth’s interest in the fairy-folk, resulting in horrific experiments and multiple killings and raids on the creature’s homes. Feeling himself no better than Tooth, he decides he must let his captive go, but the fairy has other plans for him… Drawing young Asa Brown into a magical two-hundred year old mystery never before seen with human eyes.

The Windvale Sprites is a short title, easily finish-able in the space of a few days, but don’t let the size put you off by any means. It’s a rich story, complete with beautiful and simple pencil and ink greyscale images by the author, which really add a stark sense of bleakness to the story, as well as to the magic and the general feel. What is that feel you ask? A good, classicly twisted English fairytale. The overall feeling I had going in to the story was that it would be quite a childish, but nice story, but what I got was something totally unexpected: It was dark and wonderfully sinister, with some fairly grotesque descriptions of the old Benjamin Tooth’s horrific experiments. Running through the whole thing was a sense of childlike wonderment and curiosity, which really struck a chord with me (I was a child fascinated with nature and the idea of exploring a new species), and a good sense of understanding the need to respect nature and those things which we don’t understand… Because they might just appreciate it more if we do. Writing-wise, Crook’s descriptive passages are brilliantly written, making a great use of adjectives and pronouns to really bring the scenes to life (aided wonderfully by his illustrations), and the pacing is quick, getting into the action quickly, and while it makes for an odd mystery pacing, it works well for the age group it’s targeted at. I think too much mystery would put off a lot of it’s target audience.

Overall, I distinctly enjoyed The Windvale Sprites, and I think it’s a highly promising debut title. My only drawback is I think it may well not attract the audience it intends, but with informed bookselling and word-of-mouth, I think this will ended up delighting boys and girls with a sense of mystery, curiosity and a love of nature. It put me well in mind of another superb WCBP title, the 2010 winner in fact, which also uses a darker twist on the classic English fairy tale; Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Treasures.

Thanks for reading (if you did), and I’ll be back soon!

D