Sebastian Darke: A Buffalope's Tale by Philip Caveney

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Sebastian Darke: A Buffalope's Tale by Philip Caveney

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Max the buffalope tells the sometimes sad, often funny tale of his youth on the wild plains, his capture and his eventual partnership with jester Alexander Darke, Prince of Fools and father of Sebastian. A whimsical spin-off from the highly popular Sebastian Darke series.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 158 Date: December 2010
Publisher: Book Guild Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846245633

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Don't be too worried by what is said on the front cover: this book may purport to be buffalope Max's life story in his own miserable words, but it is, in fact, a warm and funny tale. Max is a larger-than-life character in every sense of the word: a brilliant thinker and a gifted linguist, he is quickly able to pick up the human tongue. And he is always ready to give his opinion or a piece of advice — whether it's wanted or not.

He starts his life on the great plains of Neruvia with his parents, and from the very beginning of his life questions everything. As he says, in the first line of the book,

For as long as I can remember, I have always stood out from the herd.

He then expands on this, assuring us he is

admired and revered across the known world as Max the Mighty.

All this from a huge shaggy creature that spends a fair amount of his working day pulling a jester's caravan from village to village. Imagine the cynical, witty and clever Stephen Fry reduced to menial work, and you'll get the picture.

It is not unusual for secondary characters in a story to become popular in their own right, and this book was written to answer the many questions from young readers about why Max is always complaining. The answer is a warm and witty account of Max's life from his youth until the day of Sebastian's birth, liberally sprinkled with incidents which demonstrate his brilliance, his quick-thinking and his heroism. There is emotion aplenty, too, but be reassured: it is always tempered with comedy.

There is, alas, tragedy in the young buffalope's life: before he even reaches full size he sees his father slaughtered trying to defend him from the Uprights, whom he later comes to call humans. He is sold into slavery, discovers the terrible fate that meets animals who are no longer useful to their captors, and is condemned to walk in circles pulling huge grinding stones until he drops. He meets other animals on his travels, some kindly and some simply stupid, and he learns much about the ways of the world along the way. But his irrepressible vanity, coupled with his absolute certainty about his gifts, enables him to survive, and these are the qualities which make this autobiography bound along at such an enjoyable rate.

World-weary Max assures us humans would be incapable of pronouncing his real name, pointing out that some of us can hardly hold a conversation in our own language, never mind his. In fact, almost every human in the book is shown up as greedy, cruel or insensitive. Even Alexander, who rescues him from certain death at the jaws of a pack of wild mutts, has a weakness which comes close to ruining both his marriage and his career, and it is only thanks to the efforts of Max (or so he tells us) that both are saved. Our favourite buffalope tells us (at some length) how the budding jester only learns to tell funny jokes when his partner Max (who only pulls the caravan as a favour) graciously agrees to train him, and that it is in fact Max's singing, and his slapstick routine, which win them both the patronage of a Very Important Person. And, although it is swept aside as insignificant here, the unending hatred of another.

This is a gentle book about an original and lovable character whose flaws are far outweighed by his qualities. You don't have to have read the Sebastian Darke series to enjoy it, but you will certainly want to read more about the verbose, complaining and thoroughly delightful Max.

Many thanks to The Book Guild for sending us this enchanting book.

Further reading suggestion: Once you've read this, you'll simply have to try the further adventures of Max and Sebastian Darke. Try Sebastian Darke: Prince of Explorers, also by Philip Caveney.

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Buy Sebastian Darke: A Buffalope's Tale by Philip Caveney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sebastian Darke: A Buffalope's Tale by Philip Caveney at


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