The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson

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The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Beautiful follow up to Tanglewreck that serves almost as well as a standalone novel. Fresh, original and moving, it's the language in this novel that truly delights. Despite its challenge, recommended for keen readers of ten and up.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 140880042X

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London 1601. Elizabeth I is getting on in years. Her capital city is a busy, bustling place. Boats fill the river and people fill the streets. Jack is happy because it's his birthday and his present is his heart's desire: an excitable black puppy named Max, who's a licking and a running and a leaping and a jumping and a tummy in the air and a tail wagging and a barking, racing, braking, spinning energy dog of delight.

But not all is well. A scheming magus is getting closer to his goal of transforming all of London into a city of gold - and happily, for once, his name is not John Dee. But, like Dee, the magus is an alchemist. He lacks just one thing to begin the transformation and that thing is the Radiant Boy. And the Radiant Boy is Jack. Kidnapped by the Magus and taken to the Dark House, Jack will be called upon to show huge courage and make great sacrifices if London - and its future - is to be saved.

This is Jeanette Winterson's follow-up to Tanglewreck, although I didn't realise that for quite a few chapters. It's both very like and very different to that book, and I think it holds up perfectly well as a standalone novel. I enjoyed Tanglewreck immensely, but I did feel there was something missing and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it just tried just a little bit too hard. The Battle of the Sun doesn't have anything missing at all. It's absolutely wonderful, with stout-hearted central characters in Jack and Silver (the heroine of Tanglewreck doing a little bit more time-travelling) and an absolutely stupendous supporting cast, including a bottle-grown split-personality duo in Wedge and Mistress Split. I'll leave your curiosity whet about them; only the book can do them justice.

The narrative is heroic, pacy and wildly imaginative, but it's all rooted in the oldest of good against evil, reluctant hero stories. It's utterly romantic. The historical elements blend seamlessly with the fantasy worldbuilding and I believed in every single word. There are funny moments too - can you imagine a half-man called Wedge trying to hatch a coconut? Can you?!

But what really stands out is the use of language. Winterson brings words to her young readers in all the glory she can muster, and that's some glory. She makes magic in every sentence on every page with image and rhythm and quirk and subtlety. The Magus is a man so dark that he seemed to be his own night. The Sunken King is a young man, a strong man, with clean red hair, like a sun. And yet, Battle of the Sun remains accessible to young readers (about a hundred of its four hundred pages are chapter titles) - I'd say it's approachable by keen readers at middle primary level, but I'd also say tweens and teens wouldn't be too proud to read it. And any adult with any kind of feeling for words at all will simply fall in love with it.

I really can't recommend it highly enough.

My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

If they enjoyed The Battle of the Sun, I think they would also enjoy the originality (and spookiness) in Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Dark Angels by Katherine Langrish is a completely wonderful historical fantasy, albeit without time travel. Everlost by Neal Shusterman is an equally gorgeous fantasy adventure with some very serious underlying themes. Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge has a similar love for the versatility of words.

Booklists.jpg The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

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Buy The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson at


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