Angel of Mons by Robin Bennett

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Angel of Mons by Robin Bennett

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An interesting and dramatic history lesson, but one that, awful WWI pun aside, is just too over the top.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 149 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Monster Books
ISBN: 9780956868442

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Ben Bartops is surprised and horrified about what he sees in the trenches of Belgium in August 1914. So is Sam Lyle, but at least he has the experience of being a career soldier – Ben is a schoolkid from the 21st Century, and shouldn't by rights be in the warzone at all. But something is putting, or taking, or sending, him to the front, and somehow the two lives will intertwine, in very dramatic ways…

There certainly is high drama in these pages. Just the first couple of chapters contain a dramatic, if clumsily unclear, coach crash, a mugging reprieved by the culprit being held at knife-point, and a near-drowning. It's to the book's detriment however that the scale of the drama never lets up, leaving this short novel on too singular a note. Ben has had form at petty crime and being a bit of a yob, and all the interactions with people here are with an inept teacher, a bizarrely caring girl, and more bullies and thugs. His mother, what's more, is right at the height of the bipolar scale, while his father is sharing a prison cell with one of his nemeses' dads. Throw in a fear of flames, and a coach crash promising more of an inferno, and you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd welcome a visit to the Great War.

The sense of the book is that, of course, the war was even greater a nightmare, and it comes across a little, as the narrative is shared more or less equally between Ben and Sam. The better side of the drama that combines the two stories is the mystery surrounding the title character – possibly a remnant from the battle of Agincourt and the fifteenth century, possibly something else. When the story allows itself the time to pause for breath and look at this, it is enough to inspire the reader to reach to Wikipedia to see how much of the book is based on reality, but the better writing at the end seems at odds with what has gone before, all faux gangsta patois, spelling representing Cockney idiom and high octane action and attitude that is just a little too much.

The author's approach to grabbing the audience and not letting go aside, there is a supernatural plot that inspires some cleverness in the writing, and some thought in the reader for a time afterwards, however what remains is the feeling that it might not make quite such a tidy sense as it could. It's an intriguing look at time travel of a kind being allowed to inspire hope – and travelling to the WWI front is unlikely to have done that. In the end the mood of the piece through this mystical framework just about edges out the OTT brouhaha, but it is a close thing.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

If this book appeals then we think you might also enjoy Eleven Eleven by Paul Dowswell.

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