Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze by Keith Mansfield

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Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze by Keith Mansfield

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jason Mark Curley
Reviewed by Jason Mark Curley
Summary: Action, adventure and really wild things -- gimme gimme gimme, it's part 2!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 276 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
ISBN: 978-1849161268

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Before I get into the review of this book, I'd like to suggest that if you haven't read Keith Mansfield's first Johnny Mackintosh book, The Spirit of London, you go off and read the review of that first and then go and read the book itself. It's a fantastic read. But because this is a sequel, there are obviously going to be some SPOILERS ahead.

So, done that have you?

Good, then let's get going on book two.

Six months after Johnny was given his space ship, The Spirit of London, by Bram Khari, The Emperor of the Galaxy, he finds himself sitting on the bridge with his sister, Clara, late for a meeting at Halader House, the children's home where he lives, with the Headmistress of his school – knowing he's going to have to explain his recent absences. But Johnny knows better than anyone that the universe won't save itself.

Clare receives a distress call from the imperial frigate Cheybora. Unable to take the ship there because of a freak distortion n space between the two craft, Clara uses her ability to fold space – seemingly pulling the two ships together. They find the Chetbora in a terrible state with visible rips in the ship's hull. Valdour, the captain of the alien ship is in little better condition; after pulling out the metal rod that has impaled him, Johnny starts the Captain's two hearts with his ability to conduct and control electricity.

Valdour explains what's happened, the entire Imperial Fourth Fleet blown up in a Star Blaze (something Johnny instantly recognises as a supernova) by the Andromedans in the ongoing war. Even worse than that, Valdour expects that Earth's Sun will be next. But soon after, even before they can make any headway into this problem, Johnny's brother reappears, gone these past ten years from Johnny's life. The mystery and adventure just keep on coming.

I think it must be hard to write a sequel to a book that was so good and get it right. I find such books often disappoint; I think it's the eternal pessimist in me which makes me wary of this. That's why I put off reading this far longer than I should have; I enjoyed the first book so much that I didn't want to spoil it by reading a duffer of a follow up. I really shouldn't have worried; Star Blaze is everything that its predecessor was and a lot more besides.

The first thing you notice about this is that the mythology, however subtly laid down in the first novel, really adds an instant depth to the unfolding of this new story. The names and places provide the lines and corners that being this imaginary world to life. The other thing is that, in the first novel, there was a feeling I had when reading it that I couldn't exactly place, somewhat akin to nostalgia, but not in a stale, closeted way. I really got a better sense of what it was here; the shades and echoes of those sci-fi novels I used to read as a kid: Asimov, Clarke, Moorcock and Dick. Though of course, totally out of vogue now, for me it's a real selling point.

My only small criticism is that I want to get a bit closer to the characters. At some points I feel like the author isn't letting me in on the characters feeling and emotional states. I know that isn't a big expectation in this genre, but it's something I feel could be tweaked just a little.

Okay, I know this book isn't going to be for everyone, and many kids might be a little put off by the conventions of sci-fi but let them get just a little way into the Johnny Mackintosh saga and they'll be sold; great characters, action, mystery and adventure, which aught to be the content of any good Young Adult Science Fiction novel. Oh, and before I forget, I vaguely remember criticising the title and cover of the last offering, well both those things have been fixed for this one. A great read; go get it. And, more please Mr Mansfield.

If you liked this, I'd go and read Blood Hunters by Steve Voake.

Thanks to the publishers for sending me this review copy.

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