The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts by Alex Bell and Tim McDonagh
|The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts by Alex Bell and Tim McDonagh
|Category: Confident Readers
|Reviewer: John Lloyd
|Summary: Whether or not the author spent her lockdown watching BBC series of His Dark Materials and Race Around the World, the magical quest with a daemon kind of sidekick feels like a strong combination of both, and feels almost like a must-read.
|Date: February 2024
|Publisher: Faber & Faber
All sensible people know that libraries are wondrous and magical places. There, that's got the adults completely approving of this book, and that's just the first line. But what about the target readers, the fans of youthful fantasy adventure? The ones who will see a heck of a lot of His Dark Materials on these pages, and yet still love it for the sweep of drama and magical invention? Yeah, I think they'll be on board as well.
Eli is a busy lad – by day an apprentice in the wondrous library we start by visiting with him, and in the evening a helper at the dessert cafe his gran owns and runs. Eli lives with his lovely gran, too – for there is a generation missing in the family. A few short years ago, Eli's parents were both lost to the titular race, a globe-trotting adventure where all entrants have to navigate the world in the company of a magical beast. This has made the race anathema to the pair – but when a bad incident at the eatery leads to a confession from gran, Eli knows his only hope is to dare to enter what he most hates, with the sole aim the prize of magic at the end – the only thing to possibly save his gran.
Eli is a great character – rather posh and bookish, with his love of reading and his tweed suits, but never unlikeable and stuffy. He has a magical animal, as do many other people, although his is Humphrey the tortoise. And while the switch in his mind from hating the race that killed his parents to entering it is done far too easily, you just have to root for him. Oh, and his best friend – and the least said about him the better. Just rest assured Jeremiah is a great addition to the drama, and there are whole aspects to their life and travel that were a delight to discover – a delight I readily leave for others to enjoy.
Even though I was thrown by my copy being a very early one and containing some illogicalities prior to them being ironed out, I got to plough through some dramatic pages most eagerly and pacily. This can be counted a really rich achievement – and that rare thing, one book we're told is a stand-alone that would merit a sequel. The construction of this magical world I've decided not to go all-out describing is quite wonderful, doing things I've seen whole graphic novel series try to achieve and fail at, and even though Eli is a Boy with a Destiny and a Hidden Power, that too is worn lightly, and he is never forced to become someone more powerful than he thought just for the sake of drama. I liked the way he always demanded the right to be just honest ol' Eli and no more, whatever people expected and thought of him. And what I thought of him was that he took his place in a clever, dramatic magical saga really quite well. A strong four stars, so thanks to the publishers for my early review copy.
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