A middle-grade fantasy novel that has everything: a strong voice, well-rounded characters, a perfectly realised world and a clever plot twist.
Brat’s parents both drowned in a violent storm. Brat, however, was plucked from the sea by Lord Macawber and now lives on a remote island with the slightly insane necromancer. Brat tries hard to see the good in his master but Lord Macawber has a dangerous plan: he is stitching together the dead carcasses of the strongest and strangest monsters to create a powerful set of war creatures capable of destroying Macawber’s sworn enemies in the Domed City. This plan soon gets out of hand. Macawber’s latest creation turns on him, taking his life and releasing all the monsters on the island. The monsters declare war on mankind and Brat is the only one who knows. Brat is also the only one who knows that Macawber’s daughter (a resident of the Domed City) alone has the power to destroy the monsters. Can he overcome his own fears, and inner monsters, to warn the rest of the world and find the one person who can save mankind?
I am a massive fan of Lorraine Gregory’s debut book (and SCBWI Crystal-Kite winner) Mold and the Poison Plot and I’ve been waiting a long time for her second book. I was, therefore, a little disappointed when I read the blurb on the back of the book: if I’m honest, it didn’t sound anywhere near as interesting as her first book. This, however, changed within just a few pages when I fell in love with two characters – Sherman and Tingle.
Sherman and Tingle are both the result of Lord Macawber’s early experiments. (Sherman has a lizard’s face and legs and a heavy turtle shell over a boar’s body, while Tingle has a furry cat’s face, incredibly sharp claws and a long monkey’s tail). While Brat’s first-person narrative is strong making him easy to empathise with, it’s the distinctive personalities and the interplay between these two unusual friends that makes this text really sparkle. Fortunately, this is essentially a quest story and both characters are with us every step of the way. (I also loved the way their future is woven into the structure of the plot, with Sherman accepting his fate in a stoic fashion while Tingle fails to register the potential implications of their goal).
While Sherman and Tingle are very special, there is much more to this story than these two wonderful creatures. Indeed, we have a whole cast of well-rounded characters (Molly in particular deserves a special mention), a perfectly realised fantasy world (described with enviable skill and economy), and a plot that has one of the best twists I’ve come across in a long time. (There is a revelation in the climax that I simply did not see coming and which brought a tear to my eye). What more could you possibly want in a middle-grade fantasy story? Maybe a theme about the importance of friendship and having belief in yourself? Yes, it’s got that too!
If you enjoyed this and haven’t already read it, I’d strongly recommend you read Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory. Alternatively, why not try The Girl with Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell or The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum.
Publication date: May 2019
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author: Lorraine Gregory