Kills, chills and fu­tur­is­tic thrills

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - Dani Colvin

WARP: THE RE­LUC­TANT AS­SAS­SIN By Eoin Colfer ( Puf­fin, soft­cover, $ 19.99)

PUF­FIN’S pub­lic­ity de­part­ment is calling this new se­ries from the au­thor of the muchloved Artemis Fowl se­ries “The Ma­trix meets Oliver Twist” – and that’s not too far wide of the mark.

The re­luc­tant as­sas­sin in ques­tion is Ri­ley, an or­phan liv­ing in Lon­don in 1898, as an ap­pren­tice to Al­bert Gar­rick, a se­ri­ously ter­ri­fy­ing and mur­der­ous ma­gi­cian. Gar­rick de­cides it’s time Ri­ley made his first kill, and it’s from this open­ing scene that things quickly de­scend into may­hem. It emerges the guy Ri­ley’s meant to kill is a sci­en­tist who has de­vel­oped worm­holes for time travel and be­fore he knows it Ri­ley’s world has been gate­crashed by a 17- year- old, wise­crack­ing, ju­nior FBI agent named Che­vie Sa­vano whose own world has also been turned on its ear.

Ri­ley has un­cov­ered the FBI’s covert WARP ( Wit­ness Anony­mous Re­lo­ca­tion Pro­gram) in which peo­ple in the present- day wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gram are hid­den in the past. Evil Gar­rick, filled with vi­sions of world dom­i­na­tion, chases Ri­ley and Che­vie through time, de­ter­mined to take the knowl­edge of the 21st cen­tury back to the late 19th cen­tury to use it to rise to power.

Given this premise, the first few chap­ters should be very ex­cit­ing and com­pelling.

How­ever, for some rea­son, this is not the case and they seem a lit­tle cum­ber­some and rather much like hard work. But for the hardy souls who can hang in there, the re­ward is worth it. Colfer has cre­ated two very like­able char­ac­ters in his mis­matched pair of pro­tag­o­nists and his trade­mark quirky wit, and the in­ser­tion of mod­ern- day pop cul­ture into Vic­to­rian Lon­don cre­ates some real laugh- out­loud moments ( yes, Another Brick in Yon­der Wall, I’m talk­ing about you, among oth­ers).

Con­versely, Gar­rick is truly ter­ri­fy­ing, which lends a con­stant air of men­ace to the chaotic and fast- paced pro­ceed­ings, so read­ers do get one heck of a wild ride.

Sur­pris­ingly, the book is mar­keted to nine to 12- year- olds, which seems some­thing of a stretch on the lower end. We’re talk­ing com­plex con­cepts, plot and vo­cab­u­lary, and cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences that would sail over the head of many a nine- year- old. It would seem that teens might get a lot more fun out of this se­ries than tweens.

Book two in the se­ries, The Hang­man’s Revo­lu­tion, is also now avail­able.

PEAR­LIE GOES TO RIO By Wendy Harmer, il­lus­trated by Gypsy Tay­lor ( Ran­dom House, soft­cover, $ 14.99)

NOT hav­ing read any of the more re­cent in­stal­ments about Pear­lie from Ju­bilee Park, it was a treat to catch up with her lat­est out­ing. This time, Pear­lie is in the Ti­juca For­est in Brazil for the But­ter­fly Car­ni­val.

Pear­lie is asked by her new friend Morena to guard the myr­iad of cater­pil­lars from the hun­gry, wait­ing birds, so that they’ll have the chance to turn into but­ter­flies for the fes­ti­val.

Harmer and Tay­lor have cre­ated be­tween them a vivid de­pic­tion of the teem­ing life in the for­est above Rio. Harmer de­scribes the many in­sects and an­i­mals in sim­ple but evoca­tive lan­guage ( and even man­ages to throw in some Por­tuguese phrases) and Tay­lor brings it all to life with vi­brant il­lus­tra­tions full of move­ment and hu­mour. The Pear­lie se­ries is a won­der­ful one for emerg­ing read­ers want­ing to as­sert their in­de­pen­dence, but are also great for shar­ing with adults who can help ex­pand their com­pre­hen­sion and ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

STUFF HAP­PENS: NED By An­drew Daddo ( Puf­fin, soft­cover, $ 9.99)

NED is one of four books in a bril­liantly-con­ceived new Aus­tralian se­ries for boys. The other three are Jack by Tony Wil­son, Sean by Will Kostakis and Michael by Phillip Gwynne.

The se­ries is aimed at help­ing seven to 10- year- old boys un­pack the stuff that hap­pens in their lives and the emo­tions that ac­com­pany these ex­pe­ri­ences, hav­ing those events and feel­ings ac­knowl­edged as mean­ing­ful and im­por­tant, and help­ing them to gain and use an emo­tional vo­cab­u­lary that they can carry for­ward into man­hood with con­fi­dence and self- as­sur­ance.

“Stuff Hap­pens is our con­tri­bu­tion to … [ the] un­clench­ing of boys’ hearts,” says se­ries edi­tor Su­san­nah McFar­lane, se­ries edi­tor.

“We also think it is a se­ries young boys will love. Be­cause it’s about them. And their stuff. And that mat­ters.”

Each book tells the story of an in­ci­dent of emo­tional im­por­tance to one of the boys in the fic­tional Mon­vale Pri­mary school. Ned’s older brother and sis­ter are held up as mod­els of virtue and achieve­ment by the school but Ned can’t un­der­stand why – nor does he feel he has any hope of liv­ing up to their prece­dent. He is hor­ri­fied to learn his new teacher in Grade 5 is the same teacher who had him dis­qual­i­fied from a swim­ming car­ni­val when he was in Grade 2 – an in­ci­dent which dev­as­tated him. He can only see his teacher through the lens of that ex­pe­ri­ence and con­se­quently, his ac­tions as a mem­ber of her class are per­haps not the most well- thought- out: a run- in with a ham­burger be­ing the fi­nal event that brings mat­ters to a head.

Daddo does a fine job of bring­ing Ned’s mixed and con­fus­ing thoughts and emo­tions to the fore, and has cre­ated in Ned a very re­lat­able char­ac­ter. The good folk at Puf­fin are to be con­grat­u­lated for cre­at­ing a se­ries that so thought­fully ad­dresses a most im­por­tant is­sue.

WHIFFY WIL­SON: THE WOLF WHO WOULDN’T GO TO SCHOOL By Caryl Hart, il­lus­trated by Leonie Lord ( Or­chard, hard­cover, $ 24.99)

WHIFFY Wil­son, star of Hart and Lord’s pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion, The Wolf Who Wouldn’t Wash, has now jacked up and re­fused to go to school. He says that school is bor­ing, but pri­vately, he’s anx­ious about not know­ing what to ex­pect, and wor­ried about what might hap­pen if he can’t do the work.

But his best friend Dotty takes him to school, shows him how it all works, and he ends up hav­ing the most won­der­ful day.

Told in sim­ple rhyme and rhythm and ac­com­pa­nied by su­per- ap­peal­ing il­lus­tra­tions, this is a very en­gag­ing story that also hap­pens to do a great job of help­ing tiny peo­ple feel a lit­tle more com­fort­able about start­ing school.

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