Whortle's Hope (The Deptford Mouselets) by Robin Jarvis
|Whortle's Hope (The Deptford Mouselets) by Robin Jarvis|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A sterling entry to the series of mouse tales, with a young entrant in a sporting contest encountering depths of history and mystery as a sideline. Fascinating, and a great saga for the 8-13 year old audience.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: November 2007|
|Publisher: Hodder Children's Books|
Whortle the fieldmouse is fired up. There is a major sports contest for all his kin, the prize the opportunity to become Head Sentry, able to stay perched on the deliciously golden stalks of barleycorn and keep watch over the meadow they call home. It's a prize of maturity, and although Whortle has recently come of age and been given his medallion to prove it, it will mean the little mouse will have to over-achieve in several sporting events - five from a menu of ten must be chosen before he can hope to win.
So it's very unfortunate that he is not the keenest swimmer, and a hopeless user of the pole vault and slingshot. Thankfully he has some close friends to help him in his training schedule, and use him as their proxy towards the prize of winning the contest.
But it is also unfortunate that Whortle has entered a realm beyond his understanding. While his days are training his muscles, his nights are visited by others - three mysterious brothers with a great kinship to the legends of old, told of the times before the field was first settled by these fieldmice. Brothers with the seeming ability to bodily transport Whortle to the very battlefield between the forest creatures of evil, and those on the side of good, led by the redoubtable Fenlyn Purfote.
This is a world with heavily anthropomorphised creatures - they use tools, language, fire, as any of us would, and all talk of fieldmice being churned up by combine harvesters or otherwise having short lives, or living within spitting reach of about eight hundred relatives, is conspicuous by its absence. Indeed, the hero seems to be an only child, which is odd, from what I know of mouse biology.
However the main point is that this might seem incredibly twee. With the series being called the Deptford Mouselets to indicate a slightly younger target audience, I was really not sure how much I would get out of this book. I don't think it actually helps that any sense of darkness, threat, danger and all the depths they bring to the saga are dropped from the cover blurb. This book is not just a fey whimsy of a mouse playing at being a pentathlete.
Instead the book really sucks you in with a perfectly balanced storyline of intrigue, past events (which might seem to break time travel paradoxes, but I think they're OK) and wonder. I haven't read any of the many previous Deptford books, and didn't know until some quick research afterward how this ties in with the original saga. But it's also a brilliant self-contained adventure, full of mythology, great characterisation and pure drama. Thus it's an essential addition to the bookshelves of anybody who has read Robin Jarvis before, and despite filling in blanks elsewhere in the series for fans, it really works as an initial launch into the rest - and although it is a large book for an eight year old to tackle, I am sure any young reader would be very happy to absorb the other volumes, if they are of this standard.
I have a teeny quibble about the running gag about vomit, and while the narrative is really quite old-fashioned in its authority at times, and the slang and expressions cutely quaint and acceptable ("Scabby dollops!" I shall have to remember), a couple of modernisms seemed to creep in and jar. But I don't want to end on a negative note; this book has really woken me up to the Deptford series, and I give full recommendation to its sense of fantasy, adventure and subtler-than-most moralising. The writing throughout was superb, drawing the pictures of the story in my head with Pixar-sharp imagery.
It's a lovely volume - especially if the pen sketches of the mice are to your taste, and only once does an oddly-named character defeat the proof-reading. I have been moderately impressed by some other animal sagas in my time (the original Rats of NIMH, and the Kine trilogy) but this is the best I can recall, despite my being three times too old for it. It can only get five Bookbag stars.
We therefore can only thank the publishers for sending a copy to us to sample.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Whortle's Hope (The Deptford Mouselets) by Robin Jarvis at Amazon.com.
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