Barnaby Grimes: Return of the Emerald Skull by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Barnaby Grimes: Return of the Emerald Skull by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The second Barnaby Grimes book is as good as the first. For mystery, intrigue and a little horror in a vaguely Dickensian London it will be hard to beat. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: July 2008
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
ISBN: 978-0552556224

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Barnaby Grimes is a tick-tock lad – they deliver letters and packages all over London – and time is money. The last time that we heard about his exploits he had a spine chilling encounter with a wolf as he highstacked over the roofs of a vaguely Dickensian London. This time he's collected a package from a ship in the docks and he has to deliver it to the headmaster of a high class school. The ship is found abandoned in mysterious circumstances the next day and when Barnaby returns to Grassington Hall School he finds a reign of terror.

I read Curse of the Night Wolf with a great deal of pleasure and I was almost reluctant to open Return of the Emerald Skull for fear that it would be a let-down, as sequels so often are. I'm not going to repeat all the compliments that I paid that book but everything that I said about the writing, the characterisation, the plot and the superb illustrations applies equally here. Even as an adult far outside the target age group I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book. It's simply superb. It's the sort of quality writing and illustration which children should expect as of right.

There are delicate touches which bring a twitch of humour to the lips. The headmaster of Grassington Hall School is Archimedes Barnett, BA (Hons), MA, MRSA. It almost, but not quite, passes by unnoticed. Paul Stewart expects a lot of his readers and he's unworried that some of it might go over their heads. At the other end of the scale he delivers a plot of a sophistication not matched by many an adult novel. When Barnaby realises that there's something wrong at the school he thinks that it's become a 'lock-up academy' – where the pupils are forcibly held within the school and ill-treated by the staff, but what's going on is nowhere near as simple as that. There's a description of mob rule which put me in mind of The Wave by Morton Rhue.

I'm going to repeat the warning I gave in the first Barnaby Grimes book. A particularly sensitive child might be worried by this book. There is horror. People die – and not just the guilty. There are descriptions of dead bodies. Parents will know whether the book is appropriate for their child.

One point about this series which has particularly pleased me is that the authors have avoided the all-too-common use of cliff-hanger endings. Children at this age need to know how a story ends: they're only going to be disappointed if they have to wait many months before the sequel is published. It's unreasonable that parents should have to buy another book so that the child can find out what happens – but it seems to be happening more and more and it's one of our pet hates here at The Bookbag. Each of the Barnaby Grimes novels can be read as a stand-alone novel and the order in which they're read isn't particularly sensitive. There is a taster included for the next novel to be published, which doesn't seem unreasonable.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Children who enjoy these books might also enjoy Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy – but, be warned, the plotting in Barnaby Grimes is superior.

Buy Barnaby Grimes: Return of the Emerald Skull by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Barnaby Grimes: Return of the Emerald Skull by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Barnaby Grimes: Return of the Emerald Skull by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Barnaby Grimes: Return of the Emerald Skull by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at Amazon.com.


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