Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Raven's Gate; Evil Star - Anthony Horowitz

When I read Anthony Horowitz's Raven's Gate last October, I didn't think a great deal of it as you can see from my review at the time. However, I have just re-read it in preparation for reading the Cybils-nominated Evil Star, and I found myself more impressed with it the second time round.

Raven's Gate

Matthew Freeman is 14 and an orphan. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was 8 years old and after that he went to live with his mother's half-sister and her partner; they only took him in for the sake of the money his parents had left him, which they then proceeded to spend like water, and once it was gone, they resented his presence. As a result of their neglect, Matt drifted into petty crime: stealing things from shops, truanting from school, etc. Then Matt agrees to go with his 17 year old "friend" Kelvin to rob a warehouse full of DVDs, CDs, MP3 players, mobile phones, etc. which Kelvin's older brother Charlie had told him about; Charlie also told Kelvin that there was no security system and only one old guard at the warehouse. Unfortunately, whilst they break in easily enough, things go wrong soon afterwards, and Matt finds himself arrested as an accessory to Kelvin's attempted murder of the security guard and the attempted burglary. Since he's too young to go to prison, Matt is offered the chance to volunteer for the LEAF project: Liberty and Education Achieved through Fostering - a typical government initiative that's more about massaging the figures for juvenile delinquents being kept in custody than it is about helping said young delinquents. Matt finds himself fostered by a Mrs Deverill, who is in fact single and lives in Lesser Malling, a small Yorkshire village. She is also a witch and she knows about Matt's past, in particular the fact that he has precognitive powers, which was discovered after he dreamt about the fatal car crash that killed his parents the night before it happened. They were going to a wedding in Oxford and Matt was meant to be going too, but he pretends to be ill and gets left at home with a neighbour. Matt doesn't tell his parents why he doesn't want to go with them to the wedding, because he knew his father, who is a doctor, will be cross that Matt is talking "superstitious nonsense".

Knowing about Matt's power, Mrs Deverill is convinced that Matt is one of the Five - a group of four boys and one girl who possess great Power to fight and defeat the Old Ones who are attempt to return to the world from which they were banished by a trick several centuries ago. She intends that Matt will be the human sacrifice for Roodmas, when she and the other villagers of Lesser Malling will bring one of the Old Ones through the Raven's Gate, which used to be marked by a stone circle in the woods near Lesser Malling, but is now under the site of a prototype nuclear power station. Matt is aware that something is going on in the woods near Mrs Deverill's farm, but he doesn't know what exactly. A farmer who lives near Greater Malling attempts to help Matt, but he is murdered, although his murder is covered up by the villagers from Lesser Malling. Then one of the policemen who dealt with Matt after his arrest and during his acceptance into the LEAF project, visits Matt and seeing the state of the Deverill farm, and that Matt is looking unhealthy and overworked (and isn't attending school), he promises to get Matt away from Mrs Deverill. However, he's involved in a fatal accident on the motorway (instigated by Mrs Deverill and others) before he can put in his report.

Matt then tells his story to a local journalist named Richard Cole, who only half believes him, but just happens to be driving past the woods one night just before Roodmas when Matt is spying on the villagers in an attempt to find out more. Matt is spotted and has to escape across the moorland, but falls into a bog. Richard manages to rescue Matt and takes him back to his flat in York, but they both end up at Raven's Gate, after they go to see Professor Sanjay Dravid, who knows about the Five, the Old Ones and Raven's Gate. He belongs to a secret organisation called Nexus and they try to help Matt, but in the end, Matt is the only one who can help himself, and save the world from Raven's Gate.

Evil Star

Raven's Gate has been closed and Matt Freeman has helped to keep the world safe, but his victory is short lived. He may have thought his time with the Nexus was over and that he could go back to a more normal life afterwards, having been placed in the legal care of Richard and enrolled at a private school, but nothing is going right. Richard is living in York but commuting to Leeds for work on a newspaper there and he has little time to shop or cook. And school is nightmarish. Matt doesn't fit into the posh private school that is so different to his old comprehensive, where he was doing badly anyway, and missing several months of schooling whilst he was living with Mrs Deverill certainly hasn't helped. He's being tormented by bullies and is considering re-joining the LEAF project in the hope of finding a proper foster family. However, his old foster mother, Gwenda (half-sister to his dead mother), is about to arrive on the scene and change Matt's life even more dramatically when she, controlled by someone involved with the Old Ones, drives a full petrol tanker into the school in an attempt to kill him. Fortunately, Matt has a vision of the event just minutes before it happens and he saves himself and the school. Soon afterwards the Nexus comes gets in touch again. There is a new threat and it's related to a 16th century diary that's turned up again.

Saint Joseph, the Mad Monk of Cordoba, wrote a diary that foretold many events to come between his time and ours. The diary had been lost for a long time, but it has been found, and the Nexus believe that within its pages is the answer to the location of a second gate, somewhere in Peru. It's possible it may also contain information that would identify the other four young people who will help fight to save the world from the Old Ones. Matt is sent to meet the bookseller who bought the diary after it turned up again, but everything goes wrong since there's a traitor within the Nexus organisation. The traitor gives away the location of Matt's meeting with William Morton to Diego Salamanda, a South American businessman who also wants the diary, and he will resort to any means to get it.

Matt finds himself in Peru shortly afterwards where he meets Pedro, a poverty-stricken shoe shine boy who also happens to be another of the Five. Together they try to track down Salamanda, whilst also trying to stay alive. And they must stop Salamanda before he can open the second gate.

My only complaint about this series is the lack of female characters ! One of the Five is a girl, but so far Matt and Pedro have only seen her briefly in their dreams. Whilst Mrs Deverill was definitely a villain, she reported to a male "superior", and Gwenda Davies may have murderous tendencies when driving full fuel tankers, but she's only involved in the first few chapters of the book. There are at least two female members of the Nexus, but we don't see much of them either. Horowitz seems to write mainly for the teenage male market (given the immense popularity of the Alex Rider books with that group), and I suppose he feels they won't tolerate sympathetic female characters, which is a disappointment to this female fan.

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