Monday, July 10, 2006

New Children's Books

The Independent's Tim Martin comments that writing a bestselling children's book has begun to edge out winning the National Lottery as the fantasy escape route of the stressed professional classes and he notes that The best children's writers of the pre-Potter generation - Joan Aiken, Alan Garner, Peter Dickinson, Diana Wynne-Jones, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander among them - were prose stylists and plot architects as much as imaginative miracle-workers. He then proceeds to review, in disparaging terms four books published this summer (the fifth has praise heaped upon its head).

Martin calls Dean Vincent Carter's The Hand of the Devil (The Bodley Head £10.99) "an overcooked sub-Lovecraftian mess "for older readers" about a possessed mosquito".

He says that Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon the Cutpurse (Simon & Schuster £12.99) is "a well-meaning yarn, a piece of good, clean, slightly old-fashioned kids' stuff in heavy debt to a string of reference books."

In the meantime, Oisin McGann's Under Fragile Stone (The O'Brien Press £5.99), part two of the "Archisan Tales", says Martin, has just about enough zip and warmth in its characterisation to lift it above the "Zzar raised his war-blade" school of fantasy writing, but it is still fantasy for fantasy's sake.

As for Matthew Skelton's Endymion Spring (Puffin £10.99), Martin calls "a confused marriage of heavily-worn research on early printing practice and a sapless narrative about dragonskin manuscripts and child-eating books." with a child protagonist [who] is a nasty, whining piece of work. Which is a shame, because I enjoyed it !

The only book which Martin liked was Ursula Le Guin's Voices (Orion £10.99), the sequel to Gifts (which I read in December). Martin calls it "a marvellously thoughtful and intelligent piece of fiction" and notes that "Le Guin's writing is spare and humane, her imagination forceful and dramatic", and says that her book is the pick of the bunch. I shall be requesting Voices from the library in due course - and will read it with interest.

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