Ratbridge Chronicles: Worse Things Happen at Sea by Alan Snow

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Ratbridge Chronicles: Worse Things Happen at Sea by Alan Snow

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A wacky boat enters a race for a cure for a whole village, after a villain gets every inhabitant poisoned. A reasonable and fast-moving fantasy for the under-twelves.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: October 2010
Publisher: OUP
ISBN: {{{isbn}}}

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Meet the Nautical Laundry. A boat, crewed by piratical rats who weren't wicked enough to bring themselves to actual piracy, it's wedged under a bridge in the town of Ratbridge. They're trying to lead a humble life, doing the town's laundry - but when someone sees the scanties displayed for all around to see, they're whisked to court - and fined a pirate's treasure. Luckily, there might be help at hand - the local miracle medicine man, who's just started curing everyone of everything with the same gloop, called Black Jollop, is willing to pay a king's ransom for a boat to take him for new supplies. Or, is there something else, secret and evil behind these weird happenings?

To start with there are quite a lot of secrets at the start of this book. It's not as self-contained as the publishers would have you believe. I couldn't tell who on board the laundry was a rat and who a human - there is a young lad, Arthur, who needs to be involved in the voyage to help his grandfather. What's more, the "crime" of the underwear is only a ruse to make sure the crew need money - I'm giving nothing about the ending away to reveal it's never resolved, and the third book in the series will have to have this hanging over it.

There are a lot of ruses in here - the author is quite adept at creating weird and wonderful creatures, characters and situations, making this a rollicking fantasy. There are mysterious islands, horrid foodstuffs, nasty monsters, cross-dressing... And all the while the cheeses that live wild in the woods around Ratbridge are all getting scoffed by cruel hunters. There's invention in the way this is told, with cuttings from the local newspaper - one we can't fully trust, that readily gives its opinions as news, and who can never get anyone's age right.

There is also a welter of invention in the presentation of this book. The author's own pictures are a masterclass in illustrating the proceedings, with his odd-ball creatures, and bizarre human facial hairstyles, perfectly punctuating the action, and appearing on practically every page at the right time. It must have been a horror to typeset, but it looks splendid as a result.

This also means the book looks a huge chunk of 340 pages, yet takes a long evening, at a guess. Those reluctant readers we all know or can imagine will get satisfaction from ploughing through these pages, and a lot of enjoyment from the humour and fantastical elements. From my point of view I felt I'd seen too much of this before, and done with a bit more clarity and invention. I dare say the first book would provide a lot of that clarity, but it was not just the feeling of being thrown in the deep end that leant me towards awarding this the rating I did. I did appreciate the Burke and Hare riff, and the shopping birds (who do exactly what their name implies), but there was room for this book to be tauter, more sustained, more quirky and more original.

Still, it was not too far from entering the realms of easily recommendable. It raised several smiles, and never disappointed, and I am sure it will be lapped up by many young readers, but it was from my advanced age bracket I saw room for improvement - an improvement the author should be more than capable of.

I must thank the kind Oxford University Press people for my review copy.

For a more girlie kind of piracy adventure, we like the series including Dread Pirate Fleur and the Hangman's Noose by Sara Starbuck. For completely wacky voyages to odd islands, we loved The Mapmaker's Monsters: Beware the Buffalogre! by Rob Stevens. And start with The Mousehunter by Alex Milway for more rodents on boats.

Buy Ratbridge Chronicles: Worse Things Happen at Sea by Alan Snow at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ratbridge Chronicles: Worse Things Happen at Sea by Alan Snow at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Ratbridge Chronicles: Worse Things Happen at Sea by Alan Snow at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ratbridge Chronicles: Worse Things Happen at Sea by Alan Snow at Amazon.com.


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