The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig
|The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: From the forests everyone thinks of as evil comes an innocent troll, seeking relief from the heinously humanistic Betterer. This second visit to a startlingly detailed world seems slight on plot, but is always briskly enjoyable.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: February 2009|
|Publisher: Bodley Head Children's Books|
Less is more. That is certainly a maxim that Matt Haig does not adhere to when thrusting details of the odd at his fantasy world. Witness the family of four trolls, with one eyeball to share, which Troll-Son has lost. Witness the two human, English children, Samuel and Martha, orphaned by a rogue bit of tree and forced to live in the middle of nowhere in Norway, with their aunt and uncle – who is still at times reverting to being a dog, as he was one for ten years. Of course.
There's a whole host of quotable quirks for everyone here – the very nature of the troll lifestyle, and all that lives alongside them in the Shadow Forest, and a similar number of oddities belonging to the human side of things. There's the exceedingly precocious, spoilt bitch who suddenly befriends Martha, as she has a special task to fulfil in order to win more ponies. There is in fact an encyclopaedic prologue to the book to fill us all in on who's who and what's what, which is welcome. Indeed it might help the book more than a bit, as one can be a long way in before we find the grist of the plot.
This is a sequel, but handicapped as I am by not knowing the original, I still found myself sitting very comfortably in this bizarre world. Basically, in book one, the bad world of nasties that was the Shadow Forest got relieved of most of its evil. But you can't tell Troll-Son that, as he is, like all his fellow troll children, threatened constantly with the Betterer. This character is more of the odd – a one-troll form of finishing school more or less, set up by an embittered troll who wants to be more human. With the Betterer on the doorstep, and the farrago of the missing eyeball coming to the fore, Troll-Son decides the link with Samuel he has due to the original book must be sustained, and he tries to escape towards what he thinks is a more gentle humanity.
He's not counting on wicked property developers, having to dangle from people dangling from rooftops, orange juice, and the horrors of cleaning one's teeth.
The setting of this adventure and its unusual characters are definitely to this book's merit, and I assume that the first volume, having a greater stock of odd forest life-forms, was only more of the same. The book immerses you in the quirky and daft from the off, and sustains it with different approaches to narrative style – the list, the authorial interruption and so on. But I couldn't help feeling that as wonderful as the approach is, and as epic-seeming the huge but ever-lively read that results is, there were small flaws here and there.
I certainly appreciated the set-up of all the characters and situations that started the book at a pleasant pace and only increased it, but beyond that the crux of the plot came only at the quarter mark. A slight, child-friendly practice of revisiting details and so on – explaining for example two or three times why someone is as they are, seemed unnecessary, if fitting with the chatty authorial style. I don't think the avid young reader will be putting the book down enough to need the reminders.
The book is pretty much self-contained, beyond a brief reference here and there to the original adventure. In fact, this would appear to be a mirror of what has gone before – where then the humans went into the Troll and forest world, here the Trolls break out into humankind. There is a lot more to it than that, though, and I can still definitely recommend this book to newcomers or those returning to this world. Despite my small twinge about the slightness of plotting, the book is still thoroughly engaging and readable, and should still delight the target audience eager for a first or second dose of the admirably odd herein.
It's a sterling work for the 8-to-12s but possibly not in this instance deserving of a full five stars. Matt Haig is a successful adult novelist as well, and were his plot and scenarios as satisfying to all age groups as the setting here is to the young, he would have a modern classic on his hands.
We at the Bookbag are grateful to Bodley Head for our review copy.
Another world equally full of the charmingly odd is featured in the series beginning with The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig at Amazon.com.
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