Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark and Louis Ghibault
|Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark and Louis Ghibault|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A fine series opener for tweenaged fantasy fans. What's noticeable about this ogre-fest is that it doesn't scale back on the drama for the sake of the world-building – here we're treated to a great adventure from the off.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: September 2021|
|External links: Author's website|
Meet Jack. Now Jack knows very little about being fearless and nimble and quick, for he's a slight boy, and although he wants for danger and peril and interesting things his dad refuses to let him out of his sight. That's because Jack's mother knew all about monsters, and look what happened to her – she died. Luckily or unluckily then, depending on your point of view, a giant ogre will threaten his aunt when Jack's father also goes AWOL, Jack will fluke the ogre's death, a dwarfish wizard-type will make him an apprentice monster hunter, and he'll be given a book that tells him all he needs to know about the perils he always wanted closer contact with. The book's name? Monster Hunting for Beginners...
This was a breeze to read, and should be for practically all potential readers. Large font, frequent chapter breaks and copious illustrations give off a sense of achievement as the audience powers through the pages, and the voice of Jack is delivered very nicely. Part of that voice includes a whole host of asides, presented as asterisked footnotes at the bottom of the page in a way probably not seen as frequently or successfully since Terry Pratchett. The pages also get to look funky through the use of a dirty, smudged background to many of them, for some reason, and through box-outs where we see extracts of the actual manual. It's nothing that's not been done before, but never forget the benefit of being young and seeing common things for the first time.
That excitement, of the novel's novel presentation, would mean little if the story wasn't up to deserving it. And there is a downer here, and a slight negative amongst the positive, that it's rather noticeable that things feel quite contrived when a new character needs to emerge. Dwarfish wizard master? Bang – there's one on hand. Unlikely female sidekick? Watch where you're treading, they're ten a penny in these parts. Talking bear with a vital magical doodad in the cupboard? Summonsed in no time. That said, this is a quibble that would never be evident to the target reader, and this is a world where humour certainly takes pride of place over common sense and logical storytelling.
There is more sense to the escalation of the story, which sweeps from one missing parent to a town with a problem ogre of its own, to a whole infestation of them. With a changing cast of lead characters it's obvious it's going to have to be the book and more importantly Jack's new-found nous that can get close to saving the day. But before that there are some remarkable twists – I might have seen them coming with less fun to be had, but they really were most commendable. The author (and he has got books out as part of a writing partnership, just not under his own name before) also manages sterling work when it comes to call-backs – the re-presentation of something we saw so long ago we'd forgotten about it, but with surprising new purpose when called for.
A final thing to the read's credit is something it doesn't do. Many books, not just for this kind of age range, linger on things, dropping in all the world-building deemed necessary before actually getting going and thus reducing the size, scope and scale of the story concerned. This effort proves that action is description, and that we can gain what we need to know from watching everything play out. I can easily imagine a lot more playing out next time (and there will be a next time, hopefully for me as a reviewer too, as well as for the fan), but there is no lack here, in what actually proves a really strong creation.
I am going to have to go away and ponder why the intended British cover seems to have crocodiles as the key monsters, but I am also going have to thank the publishers for my review copy.
Otherland by Louie Stowell is great fun in how it approaches young fantasy.
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