This is such a gorgeous middle grade adventure story. I love the design of the book, the lovely silhouette illustrations of the animals and the map. Plus the opening setup at Spectrum hall, where we meet Kester and we’re not exactly sure what’s going on.
There’s a great meeting scene with a scrabble board which works really well as a graphic feature of the text. And it’s clever how Kester uses it communicate with Polly, because he can’t talk to humans, only animals. Then I loved how it was reused later in the plot in another way.
The characters are very distinct personalities too – the horrible adults – and the animals each with their own quirk. I loved the General – the opinionated Cockroach, and the White Pigeon, who is always saying the opposite to the rest of his gang. The villain Captain Skulldiss is so brilliantly drawn – like a cross between Herr Flick and the Childcatcher – he actually made my skin crawl reading his first appearance.
Apart from the excellent On Writing, Four past midnight is the only Stephen King book I ever read. I first read it about 20 years ago, and the Langoliers is the story from this collection that stayed with me vividly. I cannot remember any of the others.
Re-reading it now it seemed totally familiar. The story is just brilliantly cinematic. Perfectly set up and pace to build mystery and tension from the very start, withholding as much information as possible about the strange limbo space the characters find themselves flying into on their airplane. Although they are somewhat of a stock disaster movie bunch, the worst being the caricatured English secret agent type guy, Stephen King masterfully mixes between their own internal dramas and the tension building around them. Then plays them off against each other to milk every last piece of drama out of the strange situation the characters find themselves in. It is a great lesson in dramatic writing techniques, and a thoroughly original concept for a story.
A fun and scary middle grade fantasy adventure for 9-12 year olds.
The creepy prologue, gives way to an opening chapter filled with action, and Moll makes an enjoyable and opinionated hyperactive-heroine, who barely stops moving throughout the book. She’s the sort who says what she’s thinks, and means what she says. Clearly and beautifully written with lots of action and movement, so you can almost see her. I loved her line in insults – calling Alfe a spudmucker, and telling him to wipe his behind on a tree-root.
The other characters are great too. Especially Moll’s friends: Siddy and his earthworm porridge, and of course, Gryff the wildcat. Also Oak and the extended gypsy family who take care of the hyperactive Moll! And there’s a scary coda at the end that sets up a new villain.
This is probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year. But I don’t know how to review it without giving away too much. Just to say that Melanie – the girl of the title – is an amazing and unique character, and the whole hook of the beginning of the book and the way it develops is completely brilliant. The way we first discovering Melanie imprisoned in a military base and are with her through all the horrors she suffers.
The way the story gradually opens out to reveal the other characters and their agendas, and thus what Melanie is imprisoned for. And then the way the story goes from there, as Melanie finds out the truth about herself and comes to terms with it, while enduring a gruelling journey with the other characters.
Even saying few things I feel are almost spoilers, for a story that just builds and twist and keeps you on tenterhooks throughout.