The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton

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The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Lettie spends her lonely life cleaning and cooking for her drunken father and demanding boarding house clients. But one day two unusual people appear: an old alchemist with a curious invention he calls snow, and a boy with a tree growing out of his shoulder. Within hours Lettie has fled her home and embarked on an adventure wilder than she could ever have imagined.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 276 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Andersen
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1849393713

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Imagine if you had never seen snow. What would you feel as it whirled and floated across the air, and landed on your outstretched hand for the very first time? Look out of the window and see how it has transformed the cold, muddy streets, how it has made the ordinary beautiful and the mundane astonishing. This is the delight which is presented to twelve-year-old Lettie at the beginning of this charming, whimsical tale. But just as snow can disrupt or even kill, danger and death seek Lettie.

The ill-tempered old man with the icicle beard turns up one night and promises Lettie riches beyond compare. From his luggage he produces ether which makes Lettie, the young sailor called Noah who had ferried him to this shore, and the two greedy, grasping lodgers as cold as can be. Then he releases a wondrous cloud into the air, and the snow begins to fall. It glitters and sparkles like the finest diamonds, and the Walrus and the Goggler (Lettie's private names for the horrid women) resolve they must have the secret of the white diamonds for themselves. They try to buy it, they try to steal it – and then the snow begins to melt. Furious, they threaten the merchant with a pistol, and as he flees he reveals that he once knew Lettie's mother. Lettie has lived in a house on stilts all her life because before her mother went away she warned her she must never touch the ground, but despite the warnings the two children set off in pursuit: she longs so desperately to see her mother again that any risk seems worth the trouble.

This book is filled with the most extraordinary imaginings. Noah's tree reveals his moods, becoming a weeping willow when he is sad, and producing lovely flowers to sell to the sailors on the docks. One of the alchemist's potions turns people into the last thing they ate or drank, which means that Lettie's father spends a large part of the book as a bottle of beer. And Lettie's best friends in all the world (in fact, her only friends until Noah comes along) are a pigeon called Periwinkle who is slowly turning to stone, and the Wind, which cannot speak but manages to lead her in the right direction, and to protect her from the wicked old fraud who claimed to have invented snow. The story is an exciting series of struggles, near-defeats and near-escapes, a terrible loss for Noah and a bitter-sweet meeting for Lettie. They cross the sea, climb a mountain of ice, defeat a multitude of villains, and at the end find themselves back where they started. But their lives have changed forever, because as everyone knows, the first rule of alchemy is that all things change, isn't it?

This story is truly original, rich in imagination and charm, and it will captivate readers well above its apparent target group. It's curious, really: how can a book about snow leave such a lasting impression of warmth behind?

Further reading suggestion: Another brilliant fantasy story full of charm and whimsy, with even more of a suspicion of a dark side, is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

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Buy The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton at


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