Fen Runners by John Gordon
|Fen Runners by John Gordon|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Stefan Bachmann|
|Summary: A quiet, crisply-written mystery, with a great timeless atmosphere about it. Younger readers especially will be enthralled.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 144||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Orion Children's Books|
Years ago, a boy fell through the ice under Cottle's Bridge. He said afterwards that something pulled him, a sleek silvery creature dragging him down into the blackness. Now, decades later, two boys go swimming in the very same spot and find one of his ice skates, a so-called fen runner, buried in the mud at the bottom of the channel. But when they take it home, dark secrets begin to resurface around them and they become aware that an ancient evil is stirring out in the fens.
I like short books. If they're good, they do everything a long book does in only a fraction of the words, and though it takes an author of the highest calibre to pull off a feat like that, John Gordon manages wonderfully with Fen Runners.
Runners is a swift, compelling little read, with great atmosphere, solid characters, a timeless sense of adventure, and all that packed into a very economic 120 pages. The writing is as crisp and frosty as the fens it describes, and every shred of imagery stands out almost hyper-realistically in the reader's mind.
I loved the fact that the story could really be set anywhere in time, from now till half way through the past century. There are hints that it might be set in the present - an illustration of a cell-phone here, talk of buses and tractors there - but the author's mind seems firmly rooted in a time when computers and video games were non-existent, and kids had nothing to do after school but go off and have grand ol' adventures in the countryside.
By the end, the whole thing has a somewhat surreal feel to it. Not exactly dreamy - the writing's too clear and fresh for that - but not grounded either. About fifty pages in, Gordon starts stirring in some magic and folklore, too, further cementing the uncertainty of the mood. I wish he hadn't. It's the only real complaint I have with the book, that the fantasy elements never meld very well with the rest of the stark world the author created. Especially towards the end the supernatural happenings start to jar a bit.
One last thing: teens probably won't enjoy Runners, even though it looks like it's made for them. The cover and blurb promise psychological terror galore, but that really isn't the character of the book. It's essentially a mystery, maybe even a small-scale fantasy quest, and if you're expecting a scary book, you will probably be disappointed. I still do highly recommend it to younger readers, though, say eight-and-up, with a taste for quieter stories.
Many thanks to Orion for sending Bookbag a copy.
Readers who enjoyed this book will also love The Well Between the Worlds by Sam Lewellyn. It's a straight-up fantasy, but stunningly original, and its writing is just as sharp as Fen Runners, and even more accessible. Otherwise try Neil Gaiman's Coraline. It's scary, a little bit surreal, very short, and comes highly recommended by Bookbag, so if you haven't read it yet here's another prod in that direction.
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