The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill

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The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Loralei Haylock
Reviewed by Loralei Haylock
Summary: Overall, though the plot has some holes, the beauty of Hill's prose far outshines any problems. Children will love this magical adventure story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 0747594775

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Someone once said to me that with a good writer, anything is possible. Susan Hill's The Battle For Gullywith is a book that takes this sentiment very literally.

Oliver Mackenzie Brown and his family are moving from their comfortable London home to Gullywith, an old farmhouse in the northern countryside. His parents are initially thrilled with their new home, but soon lose their love for it as disaster after disaster occurs. The roof falls down, the barn collapses and the whole building is always cold and damp.

Olly wants nothing more than to move back to London, but when he meets local girl KK he discovers the battle for Gullywith, led by the ancient Stone King from the bottom of a nearby Mere. The more Olly gets involved in the magical battle, fought deep within the hills surrounding the farm, the more determined he becomes to save Gullywith and make it his home.

Any child who has ever moved home will relate to Olly and his struggle. Indeed, it's hard not to see the battle between the Stone King's gravel armies and the tortoises that oppose him as a metaphor for the struggle children have to make a new place their home. Though this is likely to pass over the heads of most children reading it, it does make the plot and the characters eminently relatable, despite the fantastical elements to the story.

Hill creates a colourful, magical world which you experience with every sense as you read. Reading the passage about the Midwinter Revel, a magical fair in an ice cave, is like watching it take place around you. You can almost taste the ice cream.

Similarly, the stone armies jump out of the page and into the world we exist in. It's hard to imagine how small stones can be in any way threatening or intimidating, but Hill manages to capture a real sense of impending doom as they form their battle lines and march throughout the book.

Though Hill undoubtedly has talent for immersing her readers in the world she creates, her talent as a writer shines strongest through the objectionable Mervyn Crust. A petty bully with overbearing parents, Hill manages to create his character in a few lines of dialogue shared between Olly and Mrs Crust. Every child who ever reads this book will think, I know someone just like that! It's these little touches of reality amongst the magical that make this book work so well.

Though sometimes Hill relies on things happening 'by magic', in particular one scene where a character is trapped underground by the stone armies but magically escapes with no explanation a few pages later, considering the target audience this isn't too much of an issue. Certainly though I was a little annoyed by such instances, I was far too taken by the magic of the Midwinter Revel and the frightening close shave with the Stone King for it to dampen my enjoyment of the book.

Another minor let down is the lack of background given to KK and her brothers Zed and Xylo. Hill deals so well with the Brown family dynamic, and gives such a strong sense of the Crusts in only a few pages, it seems a shame that she doesn't turn her keen eye to KK and her family.

Overall, though the plot has some holes, the beauty of Hill's prose far outshines any problems. Plenty of children will enjoy reading this, and I think plenty of parents will enjoy reading it with them.

Thank you to the publishers for sending this book.

Children who enjoy fantasy stories may also enjoy the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones]].

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