Mariah Mundi (The Midas Box) by G P Taylor

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Mariah Mundi (The Midas Box) by G P Taylor

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Complex, exciting and dense, this much-touted potential successor to Harry Potter is Hogwarts with added bite and quality. It may prove too challenging for some children, but it repays concentration with a series with the potential to be far, far more rewarding than Rowling's Hardy-Boys-with-wands.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0571226504

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Mariah Mundi has ended his time at the Colonial School without a family to go home to. His parents are missing, presumed dead, somewhere in the Sudan. So Mariah is sent to take up employment at the Prince Regent Hotel, a fabulous place filled with inventions and luxury. It even has a steam-operated lift. Mariah is to be apprenticed to the Great Bizmillah, the magician at the hotel's theatre. It doesn't take long for Mariah and his new-found friend Sasha to discover some unwelcome secrets about the Prince Regent. Previous boys sent there from the Colonial School have all disappeared and to where, nobody knows. In an Egyptian sarcophagus deep in the bowels of the hotel's basement, Mariah and Sasha find a shocking clue to their fate.

But in whom can they trust? Definitely not in the hotel owner, the narcoleptic Otto Luger, or his girlfriend Monica, who never removes her hands from their silk gloves. The Great Bizmillah isn't a good option - he is seen in furtive conversations with the mysterious Isambard Black who follows Mariah about in a very suspicious way. Even Captain Jack Charity with his pet crocogon Cuba doesn't seem to be telling all that he knows.

The Midas Box is dark, dense and exciting and it doesn't make any concessions to its young readers. The narrative is a combination of fantasy quest and whodunnit and every character has ambiguities. You're never quite sure in whom to trust. Moreover, you're never quite sure that characters are the people they claim to be, or even the people they actually were in the last chapter. There are moral certainties but everyone is tempted, and the trick in the book is in establishing who is going to emerge unscathed. Unashamedly, there is an awful lot going on - no decision is devoid of consequences and sometimes costly compromises must be made.

There's a wonderful Dickensian atmosphere to it all and the Prince Regent Hotel, carved into a cliff, rises like a colossus out of the sea's mists, a representation of humanity's arrogance and cruelty but also its potential. Its green, slimy basements belie the luxury and invention at its top. It really is wonderful, wonderful stuff. Underneath the action, there is a wealth of subtle jokes and puns - handkerchiefs become hankersniffs for example - and you have the wonderful feeling that the more times you read this book, the more it will open itself up to you.

I'm removing half a Bookbag star for accessibility. There were times when, even reading as an adult, I found parts of The Midas Box difficult to follow and the book is dense enough to prove daunting for some less confident readers. However, this is not a real criticism; I'm all for books that challenge and books that pay even greater dividends on second and subsequent readings and The Midas Box does both. They're touting it as a successor to Harry Potter, but I think it surpasses Potter on just about every level there is. Highly recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Faber for sending the book. We also have a review of Mariah Mundi and the Ship of Fools by G P Taylor.

If they enjoy Mariah Mundi, they might also like Jon Berkeley's The Palace of Laughter or D M Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo.

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