Saturday, 19 April 2008

The Hundred-Towered City (reviewed for

Author: Garry Kilworth

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure

Age Range: 10+

Theme/Subject: alchemy, time-travel, folklore, Prague, history

Publisher: Atom

ISBN: 9781905654031


Magic….Mystery….Monsters…That’s what awaits Jack, Annie and Davey when they are transported back in time to the gothic city of Prague, to search for their missing parents. Trying to avoid capture by the secret police, they find themselves running through dark and dangerous cobbled streets and meeting some very shady characters.


Within twenty pages Garry Kilworth has already whizzed us back in time to the tenebrific and narrow streets of Prague, 1903. The Kettle family’s father is an eccentric inventor whose latest Verne-esque masterpiece is a part motorbike – part wrist-watch time-travelling machine. Kate Kettle, the mother of the family, wishes to trace her roots back to early 1900s Prague, where she hopes to meet her ancestors. Unfortunately, the Golden City was very different a century ago – it is a place crammed with alchemists, secret police and a host of folkloric beasts, among which are water-ghouls, fire sprites and the unstoppable Golem. It falls upon the Kettle children to follow their parents back in time and break them free from Castle Karlstein and the clutches of the evil Weasel.

When it comes to exploring this story, I find high-adventure to be an understatement. Within the 300 odd pages, Kilworth crams in a healthy dollop of thrill-power, surprise, suspense and trickery. And yet the author doesn’t just want to share an exciting story with you, he also wants you to absorb the folklore and history of this Golden City. With an incisive eye, Kilworth immerses you in Prague’s past at a time when modernisation and economics are beginning to suffocate the world of magic and folklore. The Prague that Kilworth shares with us is one where at the turn of a corner, you are greeted by the secret police and the military and yet at the following corner you’re greeted with ravenous water-ghouls, waiting to feast upon your soul.

When the children arrive in Prague they are soon separated and undergo different challenges where they must prove themselves worthy, to the author and reader, of achieving their final goal. Although I enjoyed the banter between the siblings when they were together, I preferred their own quests as it allowed Kilworth to show us far more of early 20th century Prague, which he is clearly very eager to do.

Make no mistake though, this story is no history lesson. It is the exciting pace and story that drives you to turn the pages. It is rare to read a book where you learn something about a place and yet reach the final pages feeling as if you’ve been on an exhilarating exploration through a world seeped in the fantastical. It is the shady characters and fantastical creatures that make their mark on your imagination.

‘The Hundred-Towered City’ is a novel of many possibilities. It offers itself, not only as an exciting read in the classroom or at home, but it genuinely also as a study of a society’s beliefs and constitution at the turn of the twentieth century. Readers witness a Prague that is going through great (and rather haunting) change; where folklore and fact are at a crucial turning point. It falls upon the Kettle family and the reader to make sure that this wonderful city, its history, folklore and people are never forgotten.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Odd and the Frost Giants

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Myths and Legends

Age Range: 7+

Theme/Subject: Gods, equality, Norse Myth

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 9780747595380


The winter is ending. Nobody knows why. And Odd has run away from home, even though he can barely walk and has to use a crutch. Out in the forest he encounters a bear, a fox and an eagle – three creatures with a strange story to tell. Now Odd is faced with a stranger journey than he ever imagined. A journey to save Asgard, city of the Norse Gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it. It’s going to take a very special kind of boy to defeat the most dangerous of all the frost giants and rescue the mighty gods. Someone cheerful and infuriatingly clever. Someone just like Odd…


Gaiman’s short story (just shy of 100 pages) was penned for World Book Day. It is a story that an under-confident Year 5 or 6 pupil could handle and enjoy on their own. I have taken pleasure in all of Gaiman’s work thus far; especially the adult Sandman series and the children’s book, Coraline (which I read to my class of Year 6 pupils this year). Gaiman’s natural writing style and his obsession with ‘story’ and its origins comes through very much in all his work.

Odd and the Frost Giants starts off quickly which is good for that reluctant reader. As well as Odd’s own journey, the tale is that of a conflict between the Norse Gods and their enemies the Frost Giants. In it, Odd assists Loki, Thor and Odin and through his wit and cunning, tries to redeem them their city from the icy clutches of the Frost Giants.

The story is written in third person and although each chapter is rather lengthy for such a small book, it flows along at a good pace. Illustrations by Mark Buckingham help to beckon and reward the reader. The story itself is Odd’s. It tells of a fatherless boy who tries to fit into his Viking life with the hindrance of a crippled leg. It shows the reader that it is the mind and our thoughts that makes us who we are.

Although nowhere near one of Gaiman’s best, it is a good tale that would work well as a short class read or as a group reading book. It is a nice introduction to Norse Mythology and for £1, a book that should probably line the shelf of every child.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

City of Time (Book primarily reviewed for )

Author: Eoin McNamee

Genre: Science Fiction

Age Range: 10 +

Theme/Subject: Families, Loss, Time-shifts,

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780007209798

Reviewer: Mat Tobin


A year has passed since Owen said goodbye to Cati and relinquished his role as the Navigator, leaving the Resisters asleep on their island in time. But strange events are afoot, and both he and Cati witness extraordinary events that don’t seem quite natural. And when the sleepers cannot be awakened, she knows it is time to summon help from the Navigator once more. One thing is certain – there’s not enough time…


The second book in the ‘Time Navigator’ series sees Owen reunited with the cast from McNamee’s previous children’s novel, The Navigator. Just over 300 odd pages in size, City of Time tells the story of a young boy’s quest to stop the evil Harsh stealing time from the universe itself in order to prevent Earth’s destruction. The plot is sound and the ideas literally brimming off the pages as we re-enter McNamee’s world.

Unfortunately, I found the writing and telling of this story poor and rather jumbled: as is the author himself did not have time enough to edit and refine the piece. City of Time reads as a rather rushed story, full of bright inspirations which never quite get the time of credit they deserve. There were moments when I was hooked ( the highway scene with the dogs was excellent ) but they were overwhelmed by some poor writing and dull dialogue.

McNamee’s third-person narrative flits between multiple plot lines: from the main characters, heading to the City of Time in order to save Earth, to Owen’s mother, Wesley, Pieta and Silkie – our planet’s defenders. Along with the Harsh themselves, there were a list of enemies preventing them from achieving their goal, including Johnston (a man in league with the Harsh themselves and unfortunately, the dullest villain I have ever come across). The city itself is very well imagined and I found that I wanted to spend more time there, exploring and looking around.

One of the problems that I found with the story was that the pace failed to kick in until around page 108, when Owen, Cati and Dr. Diamond pick up Rosie (whose own story is unresolved by the end of the book). For me, Rosie was very much the life and soul of this adventure and showed me a side to McNamee’s writing that was funny, enchanting and most importantly: exciting. From this point on, the story’s pace picks up and although there are parts that still don’t read very well, the story itself and the ideas perform well enough to make the second half of the book far more enjoyable.

I came to the book with mixed feelings. When I first looked at the front cover I was rather unimpressed and felt that not a lot of effort had been put into making the author’s work attractive or alluring. Upon reading the little caption on McNamee however, whose adult work has been hailed as “one of the most outstanding pieces of Irish fiction to come along in years”, I thought that I was in for a treat.

Sadly, this was not the case. Still, within its pages I could not help feel that there beat the heart of a great idea and that the characters had the potential to be vibrant and captivating. It is difficult to recommend a book that you fail to really enjoy, but for those who like Dr. Who or even liked the idea of travelling in and on time to save the Earth, then this book could work for you.