The Box of Demons by Daniel Whelan
|The Box of Demons by Daniel Whelan|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: An adventurous read about the machinations of the Apocalypse, which probably needs an equally adventurous reader to get the most out of it.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 256||Date: January 2016|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Meet Ben Robson. He is haunted by owning a Box of Demons, which like those TV-advertised DIY liquids, does exactly what it says on the tin. It contains three demons, of different kinds, that have hampered his concentration at school, caused no end of mischief he has had to take the blame for, and may even have had something to do with his mother being incarcerated in a special hospital. But is that all it contains? The demons, as naughty as they might be – where do they sit in the grand scheme of things, and where as a result might Ben end up, if the forces of good and evil choose now (a wet and stormy February), and here (North Wales) to have it out once and for all?
To start with, it's worth looking at where this book is pitched. You would think from the first few pages – wacky demons being introduced, Ben being bullied by three harridans from his school (probably several years younger than him, too) – that it was a book for the confident reader audience – the tens and up. I saw things that really endeared it to me – a brilliantly disparaging look at North Wales, courtesy of the author's own growing up there, and more, that made me think he was on my side, even as a passing adult. But before long I considered the real audience was the younger side of the teen category; there is a real discussion if you like on these pages as to which side is the better, or worse – and which side is good and which is evil. The fact that people do evil to do good and look good to commit evil doesn't help.
And that is where, I'm afraid, the favour the book built up with me was spent – in the machinations between the diverse sides and their endless politics, for want of a better word. That and the fact the story took Ben and us to too extreme and unusual locations. And gave with one hand, only to take away with the other – there is no point in having three wacky demons to draw us in if they quickly become annoying; there is no point in bringing in a burgeoning idea of first love for Ben only to drop her for far too long.
All this and the fact the story swung too vividly from being in favour of one side to the other meant I felt the author was trying too hard to have his cake and eat it. Which is a pity, because he doubtlessly has a brilliant book in him. 'Vivid' is not the word for some of the action and writing here, although he cannot sustain that throughout. Not only can he imbue us with caring about Ben, even while we flick annoyed through some plot elements that go on, but he can develop a brilliant turn of phrase about North Wales that would brighten many an adult read. He can then annoy, by proving he knows how to develop a perfectly realised young fantasy fan (Terry Brooks (before he went crap) books beside his bed, war-gaming fascination at the expense of having friends) only to have the punchline to a quip about the Underworld being regarding their use of scatter-cushions. I don't think Robert Rankin or Terry Pratchett would have stooped so low for a readership age so low, and I think that despite some flashes of real talent here, that is where I would suggest this disparate target audience should turn.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
We really like Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator) as a teen fantasy that will have long renown.
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