Secrets of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar

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Secrets of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A less than impressive start and set-up belie an engaging fantasy, with lots of minor problems but many strengths.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0141384337

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The Island of Tamarind is once again under threat, from the evils of the Red Coral. Once more Simon and his sisters Maya and Penny (but mostly Simon) must save the island that only they can reach, as it lies in some exotic Bermuda Triangle. For a second book running they must breach the barriers, solve mysteries surrounding their native friend Helix's legacy, and the native magical element ophalla, and put the island to rights.

OK, I haven't read the first book in this series, but I had problems with the start of this one. It seemed like Prince Caspian's problems writ exceedingly large. "Ooh, the fantasy land only we know about and only we can reach is in trouble." "Oh we better go and help it - but how will we get there?" "Well, pretty much in exactly the same way we did last time." "Oh, OK. Bet it's changed when we get there..."

Now I don't wish for one moment for you to think this book is actually anything like my reductio ad absurdum. The writing is in fact very warmly rich. The island is evoked quite well, if some of the made-up creature names and fantastical elements were a bit easy-seeming. And when the children do enter the realm of Tamarind for a second time, and they slowly sort through what they need to find out, who they ought to seek and what they must gather, the story does succeed quite superbly in wrapping you in. Here the family boat is the wardrobe, and in tune with that, two scenes that follow - including a most absorbing and delightful ghostly village assembling itself in marshy waters for the night - show the nautical side of the book off to a T.

The plot also has an eco-friendly lesson, as the Red Coral are a gang of miners whose effects are killing off the exotic fantasy paradise. The lightness with which this comes across is to the book's benefit, but I'm not certain about the author's style being the same - so rich is it that I think it's got the most difficult vocab of any book flagged up as for 9+ -year olds for many a year.

Taken as straight fantasy, there's an awful lot of contrivance and coincidence in the plot ("ooh, look, a handy steam train - that we know just what to do with - good job it's pointing in the right direction, and the ancient antique track is in utterly perfect condition!"), and the older the reader the more of those they will see and possibly get irked at. But on the whole once you are caught in the spell of the quest here you will enjoy the breadth of location, scenery, mystical being set against common-or-garden, and a lot more - and this book will be one to keep on the shelves for some time.

At least until they make the impossible journey back yet again...

I must thank the publishers at Puffin for my review copy.

For a sort-of fantasy, with equally lyrical tones and the mystical meeting an ecology lesson, you would find Trash by Andy Mulligan is in order.

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