Shipley Manor by Tim Walker
|Shipley Manor by Tim Walker|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A staid young boy encounters magic at a nautically-themed country pile. The story lists from the start, but improves to a much more fun ending|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 176||Date: July 2007|
|Publisher: Faber Children's Books|
In this children's book, it is the hero Tom that initially puts everyone to shame. Due to a tragedy when he lost his mother to other people's recklessness, he is very staid and died-in-the-wool, perhaps a typical banker's son. He refuses to break any rules, doesn't believe in magic, never reads children's fantasy books.
Compare him, then, with the other characters he and we meet when he gets a weekend job (despite only being twelve) at a weird mansion in the country. There is the Captain of the house, whose beard, shaped like South America, ends up storing all manner of things. There is Polly, addicted to fancy dress, whose job includes being rescued from peril, and being token love interest in the third sequel when the hero "gets" girls (as in Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter... ). There is the gardener, Slugbucket, and his west country accent, perfect for reading aloud. There is the wheelchair-bound boffin Seymour and his inventions, and various other members of families residing in the most unusual of country piles.
Shipley Manor is practically a mansion shaped like a boat, with paddlewheels astern, a very aquatic moat, a crow's nest, and so on. But the water in the moat is something else - Fizzle, an eternally fizzy, magical liquid.
And on the bad side of the equation, we have Barclay the banker (hmmm, such inventive names), and his permanent unwashed stench, and Venetia Pike, mistress of disguise (singular).
Well I would be having reservations anyway about a children's adventure book where the threat is a property fraud by the banker and councillor Pike whereby they intend to force the Captain and the inhabitants from the Manor, but on the whole what happens works. I certainly found, however, the initial chapters rather on the slow side. The introductions to characters and venue alike were not done well enough for me, with little in the way of plot, and not enough thought given to showing us what we need to know through drama rather than guided-tour exposition.
Luckily there is an improvement, but I still think the slow-burning intro might put some people off, and despite the ending it looks like it was a gentle way into not just one but a whole series of unfortunate events for Tom et al. There's nothing inherently wrong with the writing, and the pacing soon picks up, with everything correct from then on - dialogue to description ratios, set scenes arriving with rapidity, and so on. Indeed, the last set scene is excellent, giving us a pacy last sixty pages, with good drama - a magical finale told with necessary clarity.
There is still a doubt in my mind about the nature of the story - that the loss of the manor will not be enough for the readers to care about - and while Tom remains immune to Fizzle, as he doesn't believe in magic, are the delights that would make him and us care not given to us too late? Also the whole threat, beyond the obvious evil of the baddies, is bureaucracy, again an unusual choice for a book pitched quite young.
Despite that, there is nothing that the audience will not understand, and they should get to grips with the story that does rollick along after the doldrums of the beginning. There's a gross-out scene towards the end they would be eagerly awaiting as well.
I can recommend the book as an interesting if flawed adventure, that only really leans towards the fantasy, nestling as it does in the "those pesky adults!" style of children's fiction, but only to those who have read much of everything else they have got their hands on. There are better books out there (and Palace of Laughter is one, in fact still my children's book of the year so far), but this is still worth considering.
I would like to thank the publishers for giving the bookbag a copy to review.
You can read more book reviews or buy Shipley Manor by Tim Walker at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Shipley Manor by Tim Walker at Amazon.com.
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