|The Twyning by Terence Blacker|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A wonderful cross-over adventure suitable for adults, children and anyone in the middle. Don't let the fact it's about rats put you off; think cartoon, think big eyes, think a ripping good read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: January 2013|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
|External links: Author's website|
Efren is a nobody in the kingdom of rats till he witnesses the king's kidnapping. His future changes in a moment as he's sent up to the human world to rescue the monarch. Talking of humans, 13 year old Peter is abandoned by his parents and left to scrape a living from London's streets. His affinity with animals gives him the name 'Dogboy' and employment with rat catcher Bob and scientist Dr Ross-Gibbon. The Doctor's ambition is to encourage humanity to annihilate the rats by dragging both sides into a war. Efren and Dogboy, both insignificant in their own worlds, must make both man and rodent see sense; easier said than done.
Newspaper columnist and author Terence Blacker has written extensively for adults and children but with The Twyning he's taken on a challenge. Where you stand on this book depends on where you stand with rats, whether alongside them or on a chair, screaming; for this will dictate the enthusiasm with which you pick it up. As someone who once accidentally owned 12 pet rats (I bought a male rat; he was pregnant) I implore you to bravely cast put all prejudice aside. This is a novel worth the courage.
In a deceptively simple style, reminiscent of John Boyne this is a story attracting a readership from the ages of 10 to 100 and up. The darker side of life is alluded to in a way that signals its deeper meaning to adults without destroying the innocence of those we'd like protected. Laugher on the other side of a door is just that for younger readers; however for us elders it signifies a bawdy house and all the unmentioned inherent connotations. Or we may smile knowingly as manipulative MP Valentine Petheridge uses bogus statistics to tip a nation nearer to conflict whereas the unknowing will be swept away by the adventure… and what adventure!
Billed as a rat's Watership Down, the action is narrated in turn by Dogboy Peter and little Efren as we move between Victorian London above ground and the ratty kingdom below. Victorian London is familiar whereas the rodents' nation is quite a surprise. The detail is enthralling as the rat hierarchy consists of specialist courts (warriors, tasters, historians etc) and the Twyning of the title: a group of 20 to 30 rats whose tails were entangled in the nest causing them to move as one body and act as the rats' spiritual advisors. Conveniently for Mr Blacker, the rats communicate by a form of telepathy which comes in handy.
Please don't think that this has been overly sanitised though. Even children will be moved by the corpse-strewn battle fields, understanding the well-communicated futility. The trick is that it's communicated by emotion rather than graphic gore which proves more effective as once more we're able to produce mental pictures in line with our life experience. (The sense of peril and some of the images may make it a little tough on children younger than about 10 though.)
The rats' world is indeed as brutal and unfair as ours, showing how conflict can escalate if fed on rumours, and misconceptions. It's never too early to realise this and the twists and turns of such a memorable saga as Efren and Dogboy both race against time and insistent forces is a great way to learn or be reminded. Will it make you love rats? An affection for all rattus is perhaps a little too much to hope for but it's a safe bet that you'll have a soft spot for at least one.
If you've enjoyed this, we recommend The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, a moving fable, beautifully told.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Twyning by Terence Blacker at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Twyning by Terence Blacker at Amazon.com.
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