Based on an inspired idea, Mold and the Poison Plot is a gripping story packed with unique characters in a perfectly realised fantasy setting. Is this, perhaps, going to become the 21st Century equivalent of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?
Mold’s mum abandoned him in a dustbin when he was a baby but the binmen didn’t want him. Luckily old Aggy gave him a home and, with a crusty one-legged sailor as a friend, Mold is happy. Happy until Aggy is accused of poisoning the King. Suddenly Mold finds himself alone and thrust into the unlikely role of hero. He sets off to rescue Aggy and along the way finds himself trying to save the King and prevent a war with the Boggers. It’s a lot for one small boy with an enormous nose but luckily he finds he’s uniquely fashioned to sniff out danger.
At just 197 pages this is a relatively short book by modern standards but, wow, does it pack a lot of action into those pages. Almost every page brings a new drama, enemy or friend. Not to mention a new smell.
In what has of be one of the most original ideas I’ve read, Mold can identify almost any smell and can sense whether someone is friend or foe from their scent. And, along with Mold, the reader is able to smell every scene (although I’m not entirely convinced I appreciated this being quite so vivid in the scenes in the sewer).
Mold is an unlikely hero but we warm to him immediately and are rooting for him throughout the story, especially as he take on the King’s disgruntled brother, Nash. Whether they are friends or foe, all the characters are well drawn. My personal favourite is undoubtedly the slightly dubious smelling young boy, Fergus, but I also liked the way the King’s character was more nuanced – in some ways well-intentioned and in others shaped by prejudice.
The fantasy setting is clear and entirely believable: an impressive feat given the economy of words. I suspect the target audience will particularly enjoy the scenes when Mold climbs through the toilet and fails to avoid some rather disgusting substances.
So, in summary, the ideas are inspired, the story is gripping and the characters are unique and totally believable. There is, however, one other aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked in any review of this book – the language. The book is written in a unique dialect as the opening sentence demonstrates: When I was a wee babe no bigger an a marrow, Mam put me in the dustbin and left me out fer the binmen. But the binmen didn’t want me neither.
It’s rare to find a middle grade children’s book written in a dialect and, I’m usually very grateful for this: as a dyslexic who can’t read phonetically, dialect mystified me as a child and I still panic when presented with words I can’t begin to pronounce. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I embarked on ‘Mold and the Poison Plot’. Fortunately, there was no need to worry. Debut author Lorraine Gregory, has created a dialect that is simultaneously distinctive and accessible. Indeed, within a few chapters, I had internalised the language and was simply enjoying this 5 star story.
If you enjoyed this you might also like to check out Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone or, of course, the classic The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis. Indeed, part of me wonders whether Mold and the Poison Plot is going to become the equivalent of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the 21st Century.
Publication date: May 2017
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author: Lorraine Gregory
Review first published on The Bookbag