Cold Tom by Sally Prue

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Cold Tom by Sally Prue

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Delivering a hugely concentrated emotional charge, this twist on the Tam Lin folk tale has everything - great writing, engagement, originality and danger. Highly, highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0192727656

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In an old folk tale, the human man Tam Lin is entranced by an elfin queen. After seven years, he is rescued by a human woman who uses her love for Tam to break the elvish spell holding him in thrall. Nobody knows if Tam and the queen had any children together, but if they did, one of them could have been Cold Tom.

Tom isn't like the other elves. His senses aren't as sharp. His fangs haven't developed. His voice is rasping and ugly, just like the voices of the demons. He can call on the stars though, and disappear into their burning flame, just as an elf should be able to. Unwanted by the Tribe, cursed for his difference, Tom is cast out. And so, he comes to the city of the demons. Holed up in a garden shed, he meets the young demon - human - Anna, who tries to help him. He also meets her step brother Joe, who has a considerably less kindly heart. But Tom can't get over his distrust of the demons. He fears the kind of enslavement Tam Lin had with the elfin queen of the legend. And yet, however much he resists Anna, he can feel himself pulled towards her. He also begins to see that a lack of these ties is what is setting Joe on a wrong path.

I can't imagine anyone not loving Cold Tom. It's tightly plotted, it's dangerous, it's lyrically written, it's startlingly original. The elves of the Tribe are a cruel but seductive and beautiful race. Prue paints their society as ruthless and brutal, yet it has an alluring clarity and brightness of being that entranced me, let alone the poor human "demon" Tam Lin. Tom sees the ties of human love not as support and succour, but as bonds, as chains. For Tom, human beings are heavy, lumpen things, with no shred of nobility about them. And yet, his human blood calls to him through Anna, whose only impulse is to care and nurture and protect. To the book's very last pages Tom is torn between these two sides of his nature, and it makes for an imaginative, haunting, evocative tale that gives enormous pause for thought.

There's great emotional depth, and it's particularly apropos for the lonely or sensitive child, or for older children beginning to struggle against childhood and look for independence. Everyone needs to find their place in the world, not just Tom and Anna and Joe. And often the search is a painful one. Old stories are always the best - human struggle doesn't change that much over the generations. We all want to live, love, be loved, but most of all, we want to belong. In building on the old folk tale of Tam Lin, Prue connects this past and present longing to stunning effect.

It's short and easy to read, so is accessible to any confident reader of as young as nine or ten. However, it's also utterly poetic - teenagers would find it equally stimulating, I'm sure. I certainly did. This is a welcome reissue of a stunning debut novel and it's one not to be missed by anyone who cares about the quality of the books their children are reading.

My thanks to the nice people at OUP for sending the book.

The obvious comparison is to Skellig by David Almond, another wonderful, wonderful book. You could also look at Angel by Cliff McNish which replaces elves with angels and also has a high emotional charge.

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Magda said:

Tithe (and Ironside that I reviewed recently) are pretty much about the same things, but I suspect in a more ... ummm ... amercian/teen/Gothic-styled settings. But the main character is a pixie that grew as a human girl, and doesn't know who she was, etc, etc, etc.

Jill replied:

Oh, um... I was saying to Keith last night that I thought I'd messed up this review. What Cold Tom definitely ISN'T, is a genre book. It's fantasy and folklore, yes, but it's most certainly a big cut above children's genre fiction. I really haven't got that across, have I?

Magda said:

You did, actually, you did. Implicitly, kind of, but you did.

I was just commenting on the subject matter.

Jill replied:


Matteo Moro said:

this review was good

well done

Matteo Moro