The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

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The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Fast-paced, spooky and just a little scary, this book introduces us to the Uncommoners: people with unusual powers who live and trade in a secret world unsuspected by us muckers. Visit the Lundinor market where all manner of bizarre items are for sale – and where danger lurks round every corner.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Corgi Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780552572507

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What exactly happened all those years ago when Granma had that car accident and lost her memory? Why is the man with the withered hands sneaking in and out of hospital rooms? And why is the policeman standing outside their house brandishing a . . . toilet brush? In this, the first in a series of three books about eleven-year-old Ivy and her fourteen-year-old brother Seb, we explore the mystery of the land beneath London, and why Ivy's family is so crucial to the future of life in both worlds.

Have you ever found yourself talking to the cat, the telly or your favourite pencil? Well, Ivy goes one further: some of the items she comes across in Lundinor actually answer back! If you're lucky all they'll offer is advice and street directions, but some have a more sinister purpose, hiding unnoticed in corners to spy on people, or suddenly developing teeth with the clear intention of chewing you to bits. Seriously, trying to find your way round in this world beneath our own is pretty dangerous for a newcomer - especially if you're being chased by the police, and your only guide is an extremely shifty young boy with an impressive criminal record and a nasty habit of smirking at other people's misfortunes.

There is a good deal of excellent world-building in this book. Down below, everyday items take on unusual properties (lemon squeezers to light the corridors, anyone?) and the prevailing fashion dictates that people mix and match clothing items from all kind of eras and countries. It's definitely colourful, and readers will enjoy their introduction to the twelve-day undermart that takes place between Christmas and Twelfth Night. Just what magical properties does that rusty bicycle wheel have, or that old kettle? And is wearing gloves a fashion statement, or something more menacing?

As in every good fantasy, the world-building is only part of the story. Ivy and Seb's adventures give us a rattling good tale, full of thrills and under-the-bed type monsters, with a fine balance of friends and enemies, danger and rescue. And however grotesque the villains are, the main characters are utterly convincing: they don't suddenly turn into super-heroes with amazing courage and cleverness. In fact, they're just like you and your classmates, right down to the difficulties of running in wellies and a bad case of travel sickness. There's a race against the clock (in a rather more literal way than we usually mean when we say that phrase), a dark secret to uncover and a whole range of people (for want of a better word) determined to use that knowledge for themselves. It's exhilarating, it's flamboyant, and it's a lot of fun. Well worth reading.

Another excellent series which take the heroes out of their usual world into something utterly unexpected is by the award-winning author Piers Torday. Start with The Last Wild, move on to The Dark Wild then finish with The Wild Beyond. And for all its dire warnings about looking after our fragile planet, it manages a bit of humour, too – including one of the funniest pigeons in fiction. And speaking of funny, for a real giggle about the death business try Jim Reaper Son of Grim by Rachel Delahaye. You would not believe what Jim finds out what he sneaks into his dad's office one day . . .

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