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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Family Friday: Review of Flood and Fang by Marcus Sedgwick

A great mystery for kids, with delightful gothic touches.

Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Title: Flood and Fang
Genre: Kids
Series: Raven Mysteries (Book 1 of 6)
Publisher: Orion
Published: 2009
Source: purchased (on Kindle)

Find it at Amazon UK

The Blurb says:
Meet the wonderfully weird Otherhand family and their faithful guardian, Edgar the raven, and discover the dark secrets of Castle Otherhand. Edgar is alarmed when he sees a nasty looking black tail slinking under the castle walls. But his warnings to the inhabitants of the castle go unheeded: Lord Valevine Otherhand is too busy trying to invent the unthinkable and discover the unknowable; his wife, Minty, is too absorbed in her latest obsession - baking; and ten-year-old Cudweed is running riot with his infernal pet monkey. Only Solstice, the black-haired, poetry-writing Otherhand daughter, seems to pay any attention. As the lower storeys of the castle begin mysteriously to flood, and kitchen maids continue to go missing, the family come ever closer to the owner of the black tail...

My verdict:  Hilarious with gentle gothic elements for children. A good choice for sharing/reading aloud or for more confident readers.
There is much to praise in this book, but I think I've finally settled on its key strength being the narration. Having the family raven (called Edgar, of course) tell the story is a fabulous feature of this very entertaining book. There are aspects which I think the younger end of its target audience (8-9 year olds) might miss, but at the same time, I think there's plenty here to keep them reading while also being sharp enough for 12 year olds to enjoy. Despite the many gothic elements, the book is not scary for younger readers: this is zany-gothic rather than creepy-gothic.

The pace is lively, with short chapters and quirky illustrations, making it suitable for newly-independent readers, while the content (particularly the unreliable narrator, in that Edgar doesn't always understand everything immediately) offers enough to engage older and more experienced readers (myself included!).

The characters are wonderful. Edgar, of course, is closest to us and we learn a little of his history and that of the house. His absolute belief in his superiority is endearing (and befitting a raven), as is his loyalty. The family are, of course, hilariously crazy, and the castle itself (in fine Gothic tradition) is effectively a character too. Using an animal to narrate, and spreading the focus around the whole family means that this is easily a gender-neutral choice and will appeal to both boys and girls.

I would absolutely recommend this for anyone of 7 or over, and will be reading further instalments in the series.

This is my twenty-second British book reviewed this year. Are you signing up for next year's British Books Challenge?

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