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Muddle and Win: the Battle for Sally Jones by John Dickinson

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Hear the name John Dickinson, and you expect something intriguing and original. And with this fascinating book for younger readers, you won't be disappointed. His premise? The struggle between good and evil, as embodied in the figures of angels and demons. So far, so traditional — a story as old as humanity itself, and done pretty well already by that Milton chap. Ah, but when did you see it portrayed as a series of skirmishes between a chisel-jawed angel wearing Ray-bans, and a tiny imp roughly fashioned from a grey, leathery wart? Oh, and please don't ask what happened to the previous owner of the wart. Just accept that it was painful. And really, really messy.

Muddle and Win: the Battle for Sally Jones by John Dickinson

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Sally Jones has a most unusual LDC (Lifetime Deeds Counter). There's not a single point on her Bad Deeds side. Nil. Zero. Nada. Needless to say, the angels are determined to keep it that way. The other lot have sent some of their best men to try to tempt her without success, so now they're trying a different approach — and it involves a demon's janitor called Muddlespot.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: September 2012
Publisher: David Fickling Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857560360

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Muddlespot is an imp whose life until now has been confined to picking up the limbs and eyeballs and other random bits left around when his master Corozin has finished showing some poor unfortunate that he's a little bit disappointed in them. The ex-wart is good at his job, brushing and burnishing and polishing till the brass walls gleam, and although it's not something you'd admit aloud in a place like Pandemonium, he's actually happy.

Well, that can't last.

Corozin has been disappointed with a larger than usual number of his top agents recently, because up on earth someone is refusing to fall prey to temptation. No, not a saint or a prophet or a guru. Sally is a fourteen-year-old girl who is liked by absolutely everybody (even the mean girls), who helps anyone who asks, and who even does extra homework. Clearly, a new strategy is needed. So, armed with a bewildering array of weapons he's not sure how to use, Muddlespot sets off. But once he gets up to Earth, he learns that things just aren't as white-and-black as he's been led to believe. Up there, things are complicated.

There's plenty of inspired silliness in this story. You'll find a generous dollop of sly references to gangster and war movies, the occasional mention of the theory of relativity and black holes and the like, and lots of messing about with the clichés of religion and morality. Pitchforks and furnaces? Check. Fluffy wings and heavenly choirs? Check. But don't be fooled. Mr Dickinson doesn't go easy on his readers. It would be possible to read the story as a jolly romp, but the thoughtful reader will find layers and layers of meaning beyond that. What is good, and what is evil? What motivates people to behave as they do? Is perfection all it's made out to be? And how does an ovenful of muffins fit into the great scheme of things?

Stories don't have to be quick and easy to be enjoyable, and there's nothing wrong with expecting your readers to reach high. This book is touching and funny and provocative, and we promise you — it will be well worth any effort you put into reading it.

John Dickinson is best known for his teen novels: Bookbag really loved WE and The Fatal Child. Younger readers will enjoy Muddle Earth Too by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell and Goblins by Philip Reeve, which both have that same quality of sophisticated silliness.

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