Monthly Archives: August 2015

Taking Refuge

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent some time re-reading one of my most favourite series of books. They feature a wisecracking wizard named Harry (no, not that one) who – along with his friends and sidekicks, and an assortment of spirits, ghosts, demons, fallen angels and agents of God’s will – fights evil around his home city of Chicago. I was really enjoying them, not only for what they were but also for the memories that reading them brought back to me – until, that is, I got to the last one I had bought.

Photo Credit: joelogon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: joelogon via Compfight cc

I should have remembered that there was a reason I stopped buying these books. I never collected the full series, despite having been a devoted fan, and I guess over the years I just convinced myself I just got lost in a wide world of other books, where shiny distractions abound. However, no. There were reasons why I stopped, and I have now remembered what they were.

Since my last purchase I had entirely forgotten the plot of the final book I own in this series. It starts out very cleverly indeed, narrated from an unexpected and hard to pull off viewpoint (someone, without wishing to give away spoilers, is ‘beyond the mortal coil’ and tells the story from the perspective of their own afterlife, or a version of same) and this means there’s plenty of scope for philosophising and deep thought about what constitutes life, anyway, and how important it seems to be remembered, and remembered well. The characters I love are still there, by and large, and there are even some poignant bits where unexpected people are met on other planes of existence and the truth behind a murder is revealed – but still.


So much about this book let me down, with a major bang. So much of it fell so flat that I never bought another in the series. This is important, and I’d forgotten all about it.

The lead character in the series (who I do love, I must admit) likes to think of himself as an old-fashioned gentleman. Maybe he is. But because the books are all written from inside his perspective, we see what he sees. We, therefore, see all women he encounters through the lens of his hormones, and that can sometimes be a problem. These aren’t books for children or even teenagers (though I’m sure teenagers would enjoy them); these are adult urban fantasy books, and they’re clever and well-plotted and funny and fast-moving and boy, it hurts me to even admit how much I hated the last one I bought. But I did. Because there’s only so much ‘appreciation’ a female reader can take, when it comes to this character’s perspective on female characters. There are only so many descriptions of long, lean legs and fantastic bodies and undulating hips and so on that can be borne before it all gets too much. F’rinstance, there is a character who is much younger than the hero, whom he has known since she was a child – but every single chance he gets, the physical beauty and appeal of this character (who is now, of course, a grown woman) is described. ‘I’m not interested in the kid,’ we’ll be told. ‘But still. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate her beauty.’

Ack. No. No, all right? Tell us once, maybe. Give us a description. And then stop. We do not need to be reminded, all the time. We do not need to imagine the lead character as a lecherous old twit. We do not need it.

Women are assessed primarily by how hot the lead character finds them. If they’re not sexually appealing, he’ll be quietly respectful of them. If they are sexually appealing (and a surprising amount of them are), he’ll let this be the most significant aspect of their character, despite everything else they’ve got going on – and admittedly, these books do have some of the best and most kick-ass female characters I’ve read, including a firebrand cop and an actual Valkyrie, for God’s sake. There is a wide range of female awesomeness on display here – we just have to wade through a curtain of breasts and wiggly walks and well-turned calves to get there, and jeesh, does that get tired after a while.

But the thing that upset me the most about this book, the final one I bought, the one after which I thought: After this, no more? The resolution to one of the most complex and painful and interesting love-situations in the series.

Well. I say ‘resolution’. I mean ‘cop-out’.

We have characters who, due to their complex magical heritage, can’t show one another physical affection without incurring serious injury because they share true love, something which is anathema to the sort of demons they carry in their souls. So far, so brilliantly Buffy-and-Angel, except even better. But then, at the end of this book? It all gets solved. Through a pointless, stupid, utterly male-gazed, borderline misogynistic and completely irritating plot device that – if it was really how the author had intended to solve this painful, complex and interesting issue – could have been utilised at any point during the course of the previous five or six books. But it wasn’t. And so it seemed like a ‘whoops, look, we’ve got to get rid of this thing here, and so here’s how we’ll do it, right, with a gratuitous and pandering scene which will really appeal to the boys. Heh heh!’

Yeah. Not so much.

Photo Credit: saebois via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: saebois via Compfight cc

So. I finished the book. I put it away, sighing regretfully as I did so, among its peers. (It’s a hardback, and it’s pretty, so at least there’s that). And then I picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy for YA readers, and I started reading that instead.

And you know something? I’m a much happier reader today. That’s the beauty of books, and of having stuffed bookshelves which you can visit at any point – there is always something else there to read, and some new-old stories in which to take shelter, and no bookish injury is ever permanent.

And in five years’ time I’ll probably re-read the problematic series, once again forgetting why I stopped the last time, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy my righteous indignation all over again. Fun!

Warmup Wednesday

Image: Mary, Queen of Scots, Death Mask. CC2.0 photo by Dave McLear. Image sourced:

Image: Mary, Queen of Scots, Death Mask. CC2.0 photo by Dave McLear.
Image sourced:

Aschenputtel’s Axe

Good things come, right, Mama? Not to those who work, like you said, but to those who wait.

My step-sister. Cream of any crop. I knew she had to have a secret, and that I’d find it. Her beauty’s like an oil slick on water, covering an evil soul, and I watch through her keyhole as she lifts off her mask. That perfect face, not her own, in its locked glass case.

I heft my weapon.

I ran her bath; the herbs should make her sleep. I will have time. I’m nimble and quick, and I get the job done.


So, yup. My time for writing flash fiction has gone down the tubes lately; I’ve been busy, and life hasn’t afforded a lot of creative time. This story (while I’m happy to have written it) really demonstrates that writing flash is much like using a muscle; if you don’t keep it warm and limber, you gradually lose the power in it. So, it’s not a great story. It took me far too long. But, nevertheless, I’m happy that it’s here, in public, and not rattling around my head.

Have you checked out Warmup Wednesday! lately? This prompt image (along with the tight restrictions – 100 words, and include some sibling rivalry!) came from there. If you reckon you can do better (and, let’s be fair, you probably can), slide on over and let’s see what you’re made of. Happy writing, y’all.

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Black Lotus: The Samurai Wars Book 1’

With thanks to the publisher, Chicken House Books, and the author, Kieran Fanning, for organising a complimentary copy of this book for me in exchange for a review. Cheers, big eyes (as Ghost would probably say)!


T Image:

I’ve never read a book quite like The Black Lotus before, which is a fantastic thing to be able to say of a debut novel. It’s really a story which has something to offer everyone, and which takes in so much, imaginatively, that it has a cinematic quality which adds hugely to the enjoyment of reading it. The action is fast, the dialogue is fun, the characters are great and the settings are diverse, interesting and well-imagined.

The first character we meet is the one who turned out to be my favourite – Ghost. He is a thirteen-year-old boy living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro – or, at least, a version of Rio de Janeiro which exists in a reimagined future, one in which a villainous Empire has spread across most of the world. The realities of life under this regime are skilfully expressed, particularly when Ghost speaks of the giant statue of Jesus which used to loom over the city; this gently sad reference to the Christ the Redeemer statue, immediately familiar to every reader, helps to site the story and also underline the dangerous new world we’ve entered. Ghost, we soon learn, is a boy uniquely well equipped to deal with his hardscrabble life. As well as his innate intelligence and courage, he also has a talent; given the right conditions, Ghost can become invisible. He calls this Bleaching, but he doesn’t quite know how he manages to do it. As the book opens, he is involved in a robbery, experiencing a close brush with the long arm of the law, until he encounters a mysterious man with a patch over one eye. He thinks he has shaken off this new pursuer, only to find he will not be evaded quite so easily.

We then switch to an Irish setting, meeting another teenage boy named Cormac who is on the run from bullies. In his attempt to escape, he demonstrates that he, also, possesses a superpower – one which allows him to run so fast that he can scale walls, or overtake almost anything on the flat. He, too, encounters the strange one-eyed man, who – as he’d done to Ghost, back in the favela – gives him a black flower. The final teenager is a young girl named Kate who lives on the streets of New York, alone since losing her family to the Empire. Her special ability is that of communication; she can speak to animals, and she also has a remarkable facility with human languages. As we might expect by now, Kate also encounters Makoto, the one-eyed man, who also recruits her into the Black Lotus by giving her the strange dark flower and telling her she, and her skill, will prove indispensable to their struggle.

But what is this struggle, and who is behind it?

Makoto is a member of the Black Lotus, a resistance movement which has struggled for centuries to keep the power of the Japanese Empire at bay. Its members guard the Moon Sword, an object of immense power, and have done for over five hundred years, keeping it from the clutches of anyone who would wish to use it to do harm. The youngsters learn gradually about the movement and their roles within it, training as ninjas (or ‘shinobi’), coming into contact with all manner of cool technology and equipment as they explore their new home of Renkondo, the underground HQ of the Black Lotus. All is progressing smoothly, until the Moon Sword is stolen from the heart of Renkondo and taken somewhere that nobody can follow – nobody but Ghost, Cormac and Kate, at least…

The story leaps through time, from city to city, utilising technology and equipment from sixteenth-century Japan and modern-day America, as the children race to recover the stolen sword. They each make use of their ability, but far from being a ‘get-out-of-all-situations’ card, the plot clearly shows the limitations of each teen’s power, whether it’s the toll it takes on their body or the sheer near-impossibility of what they’re trying to do. Throughout, they must rely on their friendship, learning to rebuild trust when it shakes (as it inevitably does), looking past the obvious, putting together clues and figuring out which adults are on their side and which are not, all the while keeping one step ahead of the Empire and its fearsome leaders. The showdown in New York is great, with unexpected help coming from a fantastic source, and the book finishes on a high note, with plenty of plot threads tied up perfectly – but leaving enough unanswered to whet the reader’s appetite for a sequel, all the same.

I particularly enjoyed Ghost’s verbal ‘tics’, or his tendency to misunderstand English phrases, which means he often mangles his words. I also felt he had the most interesting and emotional backstory, which was used to great effect through the book. He is naturally hilarious, and several scenes with him had me giggling aloud. I thought Kate was a strong and interesting character, though it did bother me slightly that her looks and figure are dwelt on at several junctures in the book; she is only thirteen, after all, and this sort of description, to me, feels unnecessary. As well as that, she is capable of being an anchor character without also needing to be ‘blonde and beautiful’ – the boys’ looks aren’t considered important to their roles! Cormac is a typical Irish teenager, and I enjoyed his fiery temper and courage. I also thought his special ability was wonderfully utilised and well described. The story also makes great use of incidental and more minor characters, particularly Savage, who stole my heart – but I’m not saying any more about him. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.

This is a great read from an Irish author, and one I’d recommend for anyone of perhaps 10+ looking for a fresh, unexpected and exciting adventure story which takes in multiple settings and voices, showcasing diversity and great storytelling. And if you’re still not sure, why not check out this interview with Kieran Fanning for an insight into the book, its background and the process of writing – I hope you’ll soon be as big a fan of Ghost as I am.

Remembering the Brown Envelope

Ah, yes. It’s a day for the cold sweats and the palpitations, the clenched jaws and the tight smiles and the ‘yep, I’m fine no honestly I’m all right will you ever just leave me alone I’m really grand, I swear’ sort of conversations. It’s a day for stepping carefully.

It’s Leaving Certificate results day.

I'm fairly sure this image is actually taken from my Leaving Certificate maths answer book...  Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

I’m fairly sure this image is actually taken from my Leaving Certificate maths answer book…
Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

Every country has its school leaving examinations, of course. There are HSCs, GSCEs, SATs, and all manner of acronyms. In Ireland, it’s the LC (though nobody really calls it that), those weeks each May and June when the national news shows daily images from deathly silent examination halls and conducts interviews with clench-jawed students whose too-bright eyes betray their nerves. Mid-August brings results day – schools open early, piles of innocuous-looking brown envelopes sit in alphabetical order in boxes, and the principal is on hand with words of comfort and advice. Some kind teachers (who aren’t still sunning themselves in foreign climes) flit about offering aphorisms and tea and soft, fragrant hugs or claps on the back. Mums and dads crowd outside, chewing their fingernails to the quick (that’s if their children allow them to be anywhere near the school, of course), and for some reason it always seems to be a sunny day. Sometimes, this can feel like a taunt.

The day I got my Leaving Certificate results is a long, long time ago now, but I’ll never forget it. The walk from the front gate of my school to the Reception desk, where those brown envelopes were sitting, felt like ten miles of broken glass. My principal had a rictus grin on his face. Some of the school secretaries were frantically sorting results into alphabetical order while others were equally frantically looking for results as students began to queue up. The banter was loud and jovial, and there were hugs, and there were narrowed eyes as old rivals fought to get their results simultaneously, and then – once the envelope was received, and the principal’s hand was shaken – quiet settled over proceedings as corners were found. Gentle ripping noises filled the air as the envelopes bit the dust, followed by feverish calculation as the points were added up. (In Ireland, each result carries a particular ‘points’ value – an A1 on a Higher Level paper carries 100 points, and so on down the scale to a Pass grade on an Ordinary Level paper, and college courses demand certain total ‘points’ scores for admission). Then, like a bubble popping, it was all over.

I remember a friend of mine, who has since become a very successful accountant, added up my points for me because I was incapable of doing it. (This will show you why I did an Ordinary Level mathematics exam, instead of a Higher Level one, for my Leaving Certificate). I remember her face brightening as the total became clear, but somehow it still felt like I hadn’t done ‘enough’, whatever that nebulous concept is. People all around were stunned at their results, either because they’d actually managed to get the points to do the course that their parents had always wanted them to do (no word on whether it was what they wanted or not), or because they’d missed out, sometimes by as few as ten or fifteen or twenty points, on what they saw as their ‘dream’ and their only means of escape. Tears often flowed. People swore to stay in touch, and others arranged then and there to share flats in Dublin or Limerick or Cork or Galway when they went to college, and some just put their results back in their shredded envelope and left without a word. In many cases, it was the last time people would see one another for the rest of their lives. We’d been at school together for years on end, sharing classrooms and corridors and changing rooms and ‘recreation areas’ (never ‘playgrounds’), and this day marked not only the results of our exams, but in some cases the end of the tenuous connections which had bound us as one. I still wonder, at times, what happened to some of the kids I studied with; that boy in the corner of my Irish class, the one with the shock of blue-black hair – what was in his envelope, that sunny day? And the small girl with the gentle grin who shared her paintbrushes with me one day in Art; what was her name?

On my Leaving Certificate results day, I got the points I needed for my general Arts degree. In fact, I got way more than I needed. I still ended up taking an extra year at home, doing a practical course in office management, before I left for Dublin. My close friends all went on to college without me, but they were the sort of friends one can’t lose, as such; we all stayed together emotionally, and we’re all still friends now. Life has taken a zig-zag path since, and I’m not sure whether things would be exactly the same for me if I had managed to get fifty or one hundred fewer points that day, or fifty or one hundred more. But even if things hadn’t gone to ‘plan’ (insofar as my seventeen-year-old self had one), I’m sure that my mid-thirties self would be just fine.

I have a feeling kids these days are just as scared as we were by the thought of looming examination results. Modern Leaving Certificate students have the option of checking their exam results from home, on the internet, but I hope the majority of them still go to their school and have the results physically handed over by a teacher. I hope they still gather in clumps, adding up one another’s points, hugging and crying and laughing and commiserating together, giving one another advice, swearing to stay in touch – though, of course, swapping Skype IDs or Instagram screen names or Twitter handles instead of postal addresses – and sharing this day with one another. It only happens once; you only get to do it with one group of similarly terrified and excited people. It’s a bonding experience.

But – and this is important – it’s not the end of the world, or of your life, or the death of your dreams, if you don’t get what you wanted or needed to go to college. It’s not worth crying over. It’s not something which should cause pain, or stress, or fear, or desperation. You have the option of resitting exams, but it doesn’t even have to come to that; there are ways around everything. If you want something badly enough in life, you’ll get it, no matter what that envelope contains or what your points total is. Getting points to go to college is one way to achieve a dream, sure. But coming up with your own way, working hard to get there, and making plans of your own? That’s what being an adult is about. The Leaving Certificate is something we all have to do, in this country – a rite of passage, a milestone in our school career. But it’s not the most important thing you’ll do. You’re just beginning.

If you’re under stress due to your results, or you’re worried, please do contact ChildLine – 1800 666 666 or text ‘Talk’ to 50101 from within Ireland. Consider contacting your school, too, who will have guidance counsellors on hand. They’ll have heard it all before, and they’ll be full of ideas and suggestions to help. And talk to older people who’ve been there before you. We all remember the stress today can cause, but life goes on. In fact, life gets great from here on out. Don’t let one small slip of paper ruin your bright, fantastic and excitingly unknowable future. As scary as our memories of results day are, I don’t think there are many adults who wouldn’t swap with you right now for a second chance at that wide-open, endless, limitless potential – so make the most of it.

And whatever your results were, congratulations – your life is going to be amazing.


ChildLine – 1800 666 666 or text ‘Talk’ to 50101, or click the link to talk instantly


Leaving Certificate/Irish Independent Helpline

Or talk to any trusted adult, including your teachers/principal or older relatives, if you’re under pressure. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Book Review Saturday – ‘Shadow of the Wolf’



This book came highly recommended from some very highly reputable sources. One of them was a bookseller whose opinion I hold in high enough regard as to be comparable with Chaucer’s himself; the other was a knowledgeable and well-read Twitter follower who gushed about it in enthusiastic tones when I said I wanted to read it. So, that sealed my fate.

To be fair, though, I was sold as soon as I heard it was a retelling of the Robin Hood myth, and that it had elements of Alan Garner and Mythago Wood in it. We all know how much I adore Alan Garner, but I also adore Robert Holdstock’s marvellous Mythago Wood, and so I was hooked long before I ever had the recommendations. Not just hooked – sinkered. Beyond all hope.

Now, of course the problem with books which are highly recommended is this. Sometimes they live up to expectation, and you’re left foaming at the mouth once you’ve finished, frantically pressing the tome into the hands of all who know and love you. And sometimes – they don’t.

Shadow of the Wolf is not a book which left me foaming at the mouth. Having said that, it’s not bad – it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, in fact. But somehow, it left me a bit sad inside, probably at the idea that there was so much in it which was good, but somehow I remained detached from it, overall.

However. One thing it does do extraordinarily well – better than nearly any book I’ve read – is create a sense of place. And not just any place, but a forest so alive, so real and menacing and beautiful and bountiful and terrifying and strange that it is, in every sense, as much a character as any of the humans. Of course it’s Sherwood Forest, but it’s made up of many other forests which overlap and intermingle and merge, which made my heart glad as it recalled the heavily-forested reality of the Middle Ages in which the book is firmly set. It places a small boy, Robin Loxley, in this forest, and it shows him being lost beyond all hope of finding right in its heart, and then it shows us how he survives. It takes characters with the same names as the ones we know – Robin, and Marian (here Marian Delbosque, which I felt was particularly appropriate), and much later Will Scarlett and the Sheriff of Nottingham – and gives them entirely different stories from anything we’ve ever encountered before.

And all this is brilliant.

But I felt that, at times, things just went too far.

A lot of the book takes place in the forest itself, with Robin learning how to master it and interacting with the dread, powerful and mythical forces he finds within it (particularly the fearful Lady of the Forest, who gave me the creeps big time), and dealing with the enormous setbacks he faces once he loses his family, and then Marian, in turn. As well as simply keeping himself alive from one day to the next and one season to the next, he has to work out what has happened to his loved ones, and why – and whether he has any chance of ever getting them back. I enjoyed the scenes where he is in training with Sir Bors and his boys, because they were so well-described that I felt like I was watching them unspool in front of me; I enjoyed the scenes with the creatures in the forest, and I thrilled to the hints of medieval myth and legend which thread through their depictions. I particularly enjoyed the way in which Tim Hall uses the myth of Robin Hood’s prowess with a bow and arrow, and how it is reimagined here. But, every now and again, the book pushed the story down a path I couldn’t believe, and I found it hard to walk those paths. I also felt the sheer evil of the evil characters veered into the overblown at times, though one scene near the end of the book rescued the Sheriff from caricature, for me. He shows a depth of character and layers of complexity at a vulnerable moment which made him more ‘alive’, and I appreciated that. Other evil characters aren’t so lucky, and remain one-note throughout.

This book does ‘have it all’, on some levels. Drama, romance, action, gore (and it has that in actual spades, so be warned), mythology, psychology, historical ‘reality’, tension, terror (veering into horror at some junctures), friendship, honour, people banding together in order to survive (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘Merrie Men’, or indeed ‘Merrie Lasses’), and it’s clear that the author knows not only the legends, but also the historical period, intimately. You’ll smell the sweat and blood, you’ll taste the food, you’ll feel the strain of the bowstring, and you’ll hear the sounds of the forest all around.

But, for me, I was left feeling somewhat hollow and unsatisfied at the book’s close. Lots is left unexplained (because sequels, but it’s annoying), and I felt as though I had nobody to root for, as I didn’t particularly like anyone. I think this might be the problem: I found it hard to connect to the characters in this story. Perhaps that’s me; perhaps not. I’ll let you decide.

So, I’d recommend this book, but with reservations. It’s marketed as ‘YA’, but I’m not sure I’d place it there. Robin and Marian are young in it, but that doesn’t make it a YA book. It’s historical fiction; it’s mythological retelling; it’s an adventure story. In many ways, it’s beyond definition. Certainly, it’s memorable. Give it a try.

Check out a preview of the book at the publisher’s website, and see if it’s for you.

Book Review Saturday – ‘Ironheart’

As you may or may not know, I’m a person who has written an adventure story for 8-12 year olds which is largely set in the Frozen North, a place peopled with all manner of weird and wonderful creatures and natural phenomena to take readers’ breath away (well, hopefully at least – and I promise to return the breath afterwards, once I’ve finished with it). Ironheart is… well. Ironheart is an adventure story for 8-12 year olds largely set in the Frozen North, and there are plenty of weird and wonderful creatures in it, not to mention natural (and unnatural) phenomena, and it certainly takes the breath away at times.



Having said all that, it’s as different from my book as two books can be, I think. It really made me realise that two stories can have incredibly similar settings (in both cases, a post-apocalyptic world which mixes elements from a possible future and an alternative past), and some similar characters (a spirited young girl whose quest to find a missing parent drives the plot) and still be different. Which is great. Reading Ironheart turned out to be quite a strange experience for me, though, mainly because of my own book and its long, complicated, messy and rather painful trek to publication, but also because there were so many things about it I loved, and I couldn’t help but compare it to my own work, sometimes to my own detriment.

Putting all this aside, though, Ironheart is a great read, and one I’m glad to have finally experienced.

Ironheart tells the story of India Bentley, who lives, along with her sister Bella and their odious stepmother Roshanne, in a version of London which has been irrevocably damaged by floods and environmental decay. The girls’ father, John, is missing, presumed dead, in Siberia, where he had been working as a prospector for oil. In this future London, food is at a premium, and there seems to be no respite from the damp, and the cold, and the grimness of life – and India’s life is hard enough, what with her dreadful stepmother and the creepy old man to whom she (India) is to be married. Thaddeus Clench (the aptly-named ‘groom’) is a creature on a par with Professor Pennyroyal in Philip Reeve’s Predator Cities novels, a pure streak of teeth-juddering horror, interested only in self-preservation. I hated him intimately, which goes to show how well he’s written. Just as India seems beyond help, the explorer and old-tech hunter Verity Brown, along with her marvellous friend Calculus (an android, mind, not a robot) appear in her life, looking for information about her father, and India sees her chance. Not being anyone’s fool, India gives her stepmother and Clench the slip, and escapes with Mrs Brown and Calc.

So begins an adventure which brings India to Angel Town, an outpost in frozen Siberia, where she meets enemies and friends alike, loses something precious, and realises what a friend she has in Calculus, a giant metal man who was once a killing machine and who now dedicates his existence to keeping her safe. She becomes part of the crew of a ‘rig’, a diesel-powered vehicle which chugs its way into the icy wastes in search of treasure and oil (or whatever can be found) and learns the truth about her father, and why he was really in Siberia. He wasn’t simply looking for oil, of course; his true quest was to find Ironheart, a mythical place where the secrets of the old world were kept, and which may hold the key to the future existence of the planet. And, of course, there were others on his trail, including the villainous Lucifer Stone and his hapless, trigger-happy son Sid, who try to thwart India at every turn…

The only thing I didn’t thoroughly enjoy about this novel was the fact I felt, particularly near the end, that it was trying to do too much. The story lost me a little as it drew near its conclusion, and I think it had something to do with the secrets surrounding Ironheart (about which I’m giving away nothing, no siree, lips sealed here). I couldn’t help but think there was so much crammed into the last hundred pages or so that it made the action seem a bit rushed and perfunctory, which was a real shame. There were characters who weren’t developed enough, and legends I’d love to have heard more about, and issues (like ecology and conservation) which could have been heightened further if the focus had been changed slightly.

But, in every other respect, I loved this book.

India is great, and so is the spunky Mrs Verity Brown (I’d happily read a series of books simply about her!) and I adored the brave, clever and loving Calculus, and his relationship with India. I thought Sid (despite being a dreadful little twerp) was a sympathetic and troubled character whose less-than-appealing characteristics were perfectly understandable when one considered his father, and I loved Captain Bulldog, and even Mrs Chang (if she was a little on the stereotypical side). It was the characters who made this book so good, for me. They were all fully-rounded, well described, and clearly realised, and the dialogue (more often than not) was great, which always wins me over. Even though the plot and pacing didn’t quite work for me as the book drew to a close, I’d still recommend this book as a fast and exciting read which should grab the imaginations of boys and girls (of all ages) alike, and which has enough thrills, tension and mystery to keep any reader satisfied. I’ll be back for the sequels!