Friday, 25 September 2015

Children On the Run - reviews of The Wolf Wilder and The Blackthorn Key

There is always that moment in Katherine Rundell’s books where the main protagonist makes a break for it – leaving aside all that is familiar to risk everything and RUNS.

I love those moments.

In her debut ‘The Girl Savage’ Wilhelmina Silver is sent from her idyllic, wild life growing up in Africa to an English boarding school where she fits in about as well as a hyena. She runs away from authority and girls who scare her more than any lion.

There is that great moment where odds stack up against staying, until the balance finally tips. The huge risk of setting off into the unknown becomes a better option than the fate of staying, with the greater goal of achieving, saving or reclaiming what they love. It always makes for a great concept in a book.

In multi-award-winning ‘Rooftoppers’, it is also the authorities Sophie is running from. Raised in a quirky home, Sophie has grown into a free-spirited tomboy with a taste for Shakespeare and the unshakeable belief that anything is possible. But as the authorities doubt her quirky guardian is so suitable for a young girl, they flee to Paris in search of her mother, previously presumed dead.

Sophie finds friendship and help from the Rooftoppers,  - homeless urchins who live on the rooftops of Victorian Paris dodging among the gargoyles. Sophie learns to tightrope between buildings in a quest to stay a step- ahead of the authorities and find out if her mother is alive.

In Katherine’s latest book ‘The Wolf Wilder’, the stakes are cranked up even higher.

Set in the snowbound woods of Russia, Feodora and her mother live with only wolves for company, staying on the fringes of the taut age of the Russian revolution. In a world where there is a huge divide between rich and poor, the rich have taken to having wild wolves as pets. But if they turn savage, they are brought to Feo and her mother - wolf wilders, bringing them into contact with soliders.

When her home is threatened, Feo takes on a vile guard in the Russian army and her fearless spirit means that when he makes the mistake of taking away everything she loves, Feo will eventually march on the Russian capital, having roused by an army of children.

The huge stakes make this a terrifically exciting and engaging story. In a country of such huge divide, revolution is brewing and when Feo is caught up in the fight, suddenly, having wolves on your side can make you very sought after – for good reasons and by bad people. 

It is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back, rich in language and lore and with a spirited protagonist you will be rooting for all the way.

Katherine Rundell’s writing has won her own legion of followers and this will undoubtedly win her many more. She writes brilliantly compelling, touching yet exciting stories with heart-warming endings.

Her gutsy heroines are always pushed to the limits, but find strength and courage beyond measure. This one is published as a gorgeous hardback edition, complete with atmospheric illustrations (find out how they were created) by Gelrev Ongbico. This is a book to treasure in every way.

Moving on to the second of my favourite autumn reads for middle grade and tweens, there are similarities in ‘The Blackthorn Key’ by debut author Kevin Sands.

This also features a protagonist relying on his own wits as he goes on the run, pursued by the authorities in the historical period of Restoration England, when the country is unsettled and still divided following the English revolution, when Cromwell ruled instead of a king.

As well as a great historical setting, this novel is a gem because it is also full of potions and explosions, coded messages and clues.

Christopher is apprenticed to master apothecary, Blackthorn. When his master is murdered, Christopher, is determined to find out who committed the crime, and why, but then discovers he is the main suspect.

His master is not the only apothecary to have been targeted, and he’s left his clever apprentice a series of clues. Can Christopher solve them before his master’s sinister and ruthless enemies?

With coded clues to solve, hidden vaults and libraries, secret societies and a great hero who uses his knowledge of chemistry to escape, attack, bomb, inure and thwart his enemies, this is a clever, action-packed adventure. Explosive stuff!

Now knowing who are friends or foes, I love the bit where Christopher hides out in the only place he can think of, in the gutted remains of a building destroyed by fire, with a mad-man who believes his family didn’t perish in the blaze. Great creepy stuff!

Well-plotted, exciting and with a fascinating, original background, this is a terrific, clever, action-packed adventure 

If you want to know more about author Kevin Sands (and the seventy agents he sent this to in order to secure a deal) – find it here  

Both of these reads can be enjoyed by younger readers as long as they are pretty advanced with their reading, up to teens, librarians and adults!

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