Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Stoneheart - Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart is an assured debut novel with a wealth of beautiful and detailed descriptions. According to his author's note at the back of the book, Fletcher's godson read an early extract of the story and he said Fletcher should describe things better - advice Fletcher clearly took to heart.

The story opens with 12 year old George on a school visit to the Natural History Museum in London. He's trying to hear the guide's comments about a whale, and edges around the group of his school fellows when another boy, the bully who gives people horrible nicknames, deliberately knocks over a free-standing metal display device containing leaflets, then pretends that the accident is George's fault. George's horrible teacher, Mr Killingbeck, takes him out into the main hall of the museum and berates him. When George insists that he didn't knock the leaflet stand over but refuses to name the guilty party, his teacher tells him he must remain standing in the middle of the hall, without sitting down, chewing gum or moving from the spot, until the class is ready to leave. George is so mad, he walks out of the museum and once outside he expresses his frustration by smashing his hand into a stone carving of a dragon. Instead of breaking his hand, as he expected, he breaks the dragon head off the wall, and the next moment a pterodactyl statue has come to life and it starts to chase George through the streets of London. He gets as far as the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, before the pterodactyl statue, and its three salamander accomplices, corners him. Desperately, George pleads for assistance, and the next moment the statue of the Gunner (top photo on the linked page) steps off his plinth and shoots the pterodactyl statue, blowing it to bits.

The rest of the story covers the next twenty four hours of George's life as he tries to get to grips with "Un-London", the London of the "spits" (statues of people such as the Gunner, made in the spitting image of those they memorialise) and "taints" (statues of gargoyles, dragons and other creatures). The spits will assist George whilst the taints do their best to kill him. Also assisting George (often reluctantly at the outset) is the rather strange, homeless orphan girl, Edie, who is revealed to be a "glint", someone who can read the history of any stone she touches, and who can see the spits and taints of Un-London.

I don't know if Charlie Fletcher's ever written for the TV series 24 (he's written for television and film), but I wouldn't be surprised. Although I've never seen an episode, I know enough about the show to recognise that Stoneheart could be an episode of 24 ! What I do know, however, is that Paramount have already bought the rights to this book, meaning we could see the Stoneheart trilogy on the big screen as well as in print. (I shall certainly be looking out for the sequels once they hit the shelves.)

George before he hits the dragon carving and breaks it:

His fist was bunched and in motion before he thought about it. Once he thought about it, he knew it was going to hurt. He knew there'd be blood, split knuckles, maybe even broken bones. He knew he didn't mind. He knew in a place that was closer to wanting than knowing that all this was likely and all this was OK. (p. 15)

The moments before George discovers the pterodactyl statue has come to life:
It wasn't Killingbeck. It was something worse, something so much worse that if he'd had time to think he would have given anything for it to be Killingbeck instead.
It wasn't anything human.
It wasn't anything possible.
It was, however, peeling itself off the stone facade of the museum and looking at George with flat, blank hatred. And not just hatred - hunger too.
It was a pterodactyl. (pp. 16-17)

Edie admitting to herself, if no one else, that a "glint" is trouble:
Edit knew the Gunner was right about one thing. She was bad luck. The thought caught at her like a rip-tide, sucking her back and down into a dark place where she found it harder and harder to breathe. The more she tried to run her mind away from the thought, the stronger the feeling grew. She knew the feeling was panic, and she knew giving into panic was dangerous, because she'd stop thinking clearly. And thinking clearly was how Edie survived. Trying to escape panic wasn't easy. It was liking running in pebbles, like trying to scramble up a steep shingle beach, when every step forward slides back in a scrabble of unstable stones, and the faster you try and move, the more tired you get. (p. 78)

George encounters a taint called the Grid Man:
He opened his mouth to say something, and the sounds of his voice came in an unintelligible mashed overdub, coming out of the divided mouth in different pieces. The deep disjointed voice didn't sound like any language George had ever heard. It ground out of the lip sections like an angry Italian trying to out-shout a drunk Scotsman through a mouthful of ball bearings. (p. 321)


Anonymous said...

My 9 year old is reading book one and he loves it, he wants the other books...

James said...

Well I am 39 and I loved it :)

Ms. Yingling said...

Just finished Ironhand and thought it was even better. Unfortunately, Silvertongue is not out in the States yet! I'll have to check out your blog for more titles that I may have missed. Glad to hear you love Oxford-- my evil futue plan is to try to volunteer at the Classics library there some summer!

Michele said...

I've not got hold of Ironhand yet... The library copy is very much in demand.

Charlie said...

I find all of the tobacco and smoking references a bit much for children's books.. a bit irresponsible even. Other than that, the books are excellent.

OberonOrion said...

I loved all three books and can't wait to see them done as movies, I just hope they don't butcher it like Eragon was....
Wish Charlie Fletcher would write more like these!!! :)