The Comet's Child by John Ward

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The Comet's Child by John Ward

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Fin starts a series in which he is the self-fulfilling prophecy to save the world from the evil machinations of powerful rulers. Difficult to pinpoint which world, when, but none the worse for that. An absorbing read, its simpler style than Phillip Pullman comes highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 366 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Strident Publishing
ISBN: 978-1905537129

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The Comet's Child is set in an alternative world: maybe it's the past rather than the future. In this first book of a series, the author, John Ward, is concentrating on setting up a cracking good story: the philosophical niceties can come later.

Teenage Fin is rescued from his remote forest home by Ragg, the first man he has ever encountered. Having such a sheltered childhood has equipped Fin with the speech and education of a nobleman's son but little idea about the real world. Other than relying on his instincts and resourcefulness, Fin has no way of knowing who to trust, or where he is bound as he leaves home with Ragg.

It turns out that Ragg and Fin's foster mother have been separately exiled for eleven years after some sort of failed uprising. As readers, we have peeked at some of the manipulative world leaders in the opening pages, so we already feel a foreshadowing of dismay that Fin is somehow involved. It's not long before Fin witnesses a bloodbath and we understand that he is a political pawn played between opposing forces. Then the Elderfolk save his life by disguising him as one of their own and betroth him to the beautiful Ulla before abandoning him. A little later, Fin realises that he is the Comet's child of the prophesy. It seems highly unlikely he will survive, but by a strange combination of chance encounters, luck, goodwill and indeed, poor planning, Fin does survive.

Mika is entranced with the idea of joining the Golden College as a student. Mika comes from the northern world of the Great Ice Wall; I imagine his people in the tradition of the Innuit. With nothing but native wit, he shows great resilience in flourishing in the strange new environment of civilisation. Mika's adventures are equally nail-biting, as their two their trails move ever closer. This first book ends abruptly, as the two boys meet, both now bound for the same destination. My single gripe: I was just breathing a sigh of relief that Fin had at last found a reliable companion when I realized that the last half a dozen pages were blank. What a disappointment.

But what a pleasure to read such a well-crafted story! It comes as no surprise to me that the Scottish Book Trust have named The Comet's Child as a recent book of the month.

I chose to read the book because it's advertised as 'in the classic tradition of Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander'. Well, I'm going to disagree, because I think this book is more in the classic tradition of Philip Pullman, although I'm sure no publisher or author would dare stake that sort of claim for himself. To me, this is exactly the right book to give a confident reader who would flounder with the more sophisticated story line and vocabulary of Pullman … as you probably know from experience, throwing profound fiction at a child too young can put him or her off for life. Better, I think, to give your reasonably mature eight to twelve year old a book he can understand, and trust that John Ward's artistry will lead him gently into the world of fantasy. I do hope so, because 'what if' is an important question to open a child's brain to the world of research. Without it, where would we find our future scientists and artists?

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

Suggestions for further reading: For the bewildered adult, you really can't do better than browse in the Teens and Confident Readers sections of The Bookbag – there you will find Top Ten Dystopian Books For Children, many other recommendations - and be spoilt for choice. I liked the sound of The Rule of Claw by John Brindley (reminded the reviewer of Lord of the Flies) and The Declaration by Gemma Malley (Brave New World).

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