The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould

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The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that seems to be opening a wonderful series really hits the right notes – a great sense of humour and drama envelops a band of unlikely companions on their quest across an Outlandish alien world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2019
Publisher: OUP Oxford
ISBN: 9780192767509

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Names are slightly pertinent to this book, so let me concentrate on them more attentively than one of the relevant characters. Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont, an old chap right out of the central school of casting for wacky explorers, is trying to update his Cosmic Atlas for its latest edition (circulation: one). Alfie Fleet, who the Prof keeps calling Rupert, has only just met the older man, for he's after some pocket money to help him buy his mother a foot spa for her birthday. He thinks he's just here for a day's shift moving things and carrying bits and bobs about, but he doesn't realise how far things have to be moved. With the help of Betsy (the moped, of course) they call in on Brains-in-Jars World, before travelling to the planet called Outlandish, with all its attendant delights. Yes, names like those can give you a clue as to the levity of this novel for the young, but is this just wacky, or might it cross the line into silliness-for-silliness'-sake?

Thankfully, no, it's just intelligently quirky. The travellers get from world to world through constructions like Stonehenge, the likes of which the Prof has in his basement, and which allow for a Dave Allen skit to be reenacted, which is when things start to go wrong. I also really liked the way Rupert (sorry, Alfie) started to write his own version of the Cosmic Atlas, scribbling down his travel notes and drafting restaurant reviews as he finds out just how, er, outlandish Outlandish can get. Add in compelling characters like the girl called Derek (see what I said about the names?!) and you have a really rich read, and one that only as it goes on nudges your thoughts towards some of it being the set-up for a series.

But you know what? I don't really mind at all if some of this is establishing a franchise as opposed to being a self-contained adventure. I'd very much like the chance to see Alfie et al on Earwax II, which is a distinct possibility – if they were to survive the contents herein. For this book does turn from a wacky junior genre drama into one involving a quest right out of the fantasy books Alfie himself likes to borrow from the library. And all told I'd certainly recommend borrowing this, at least, for it hits a lovely spot. It reads just like a wonderful kids' author rewriting Douglas Adams. After all, you get a spread of extracts from a travel guide to unlikely places, everyone has a personal, portable, universal translator akin to the Babel Fish, and many pages have a clever levity to them. But you also get a heck of a lot that is not Adams, and is in fact really quite joyous to read. Even the amount of Bowell-Mouvemont jokes is at the right quantity. Wonderful stuff.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy. I'll thank them more if they hasten towards a sequel or two.

Of course, we did have a wonderful kids' author continuing Douglas Adams, but in the end that wasn't quite the same thing.

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Buy The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould at Amazon.com.

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