The Seventh Tide by Joan Lennon

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The Seventh Tide by Joan Lennon

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A dimwit called Eo must enter a maelstrom of stories to help prevent his entire race's souls being eaten. The disarming consequences are on the whole great fun, and a lot more inventive than we deserve, if muddled towards the end.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0141319179

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The Western Isles of Scotland. Or rather, some of them, as many parallel universes have their own version. Entering our world from one of them is Eo, a teenaged shape-shifting student, who hasn't managed to learn much shape-shifting yet, if anything. Due to his enjoyment in mucking about and not paying attention in important lectures, he has now caused a problem for his whole kind, the G – their entire world is at threat from the evil, demonic Kelpies.

What's worse, if anything could be, is that fate has managed to volunteer Eo for a most esoteric, arcane challenge – dip in and out of history, find a few useful articles and such, and, well, then it gets even more odd. So, with the help of a talking ferret (don't despair, he is Eo's professor after all) and his own dim wits, he must splash down briefly in several time zones in our human Western Isles history, and survive all the disorientating travels and wonders he discovers.

Thus the first adventure creates for him a companion in the shape of a sixth century religious novitiate, with a similar attention span and enjoyment of hard work as Eo himself has. There is a slight feel that this is a bizarre way of patching together some mediocre short stories, but this does not last, before a very inventive futuristic sci-fi world is visited next.

However the sense that things are a little wrong do persist in sticking around. I don't mean the obvious language problem offered by the first story, which is resolved only for the second; I mean things like two actual gifts being passed in one and ignored (the boy and the blessing). I mean like there never being any time for the heroes to have a proper night's sleep, go to the loo, etc.

Still, for the most part the enjoyment is in the sense of the out-of-control narrative; we can never hope to second guess this author, with her inventive characterisation, her wacky worlds, and her brazen disregard in providing an obvious pathway to the conclusion.

And for once the handling of the writing suits such a weird and wonderful imagination. I've mentioned before how some books can just try too hard in being odd, and give us less than we deserve – here the feeling is the reverse, up to a point. There are good splashes of humour, from the professor's notes dropped in (a little interruptingly) among other sources, and a firm grasp of the extent to which the traditional stories of the kelpies, Iona, and beyond can be stretched to provide such a distinctive adventure.

Also the main character of Eo is both alien and excellently down to earth. His wonder at what he's dropped himself into, followed by the way his tutor eggs him on to the right thing, and the way his eyes flash when attractive female company becomes a possibility, are all brilliantly recognisable, and the target audience would easily be able to empathise – a crux point. He bears a lot of humanoid common sense, too – and when you consider what kind of names the G are hampered with, that's a miracle.

Further to my disappointment is that the pattern of the book is too fixed by the task Eo is faced with (and at times tries too hard to break that), and that the way the job is thrust upon him is a little unrealistic, and insincere. Beyond that, the fifth episode is more than a little woolly, which status continues through the conclusion to the very end.

The book is definitely for what I consider the confident reader audience, and the 8-12 age range at that. I cannot see even the cheeky narrative tics satisfying the more ‘oh, this is just for the kiddies' teen reader. But while being much beyond that target audience I could relish the narrative spark this book has to offer, and I am sure that while the younger reader may accept that as much more common and unsurprising, they will not find a lack of surprise, but, unfortunately, confusion too, here.

I would like to thank Puffin for sending a copy to us at the Bookbag to review.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann. Aduolts might enjoy The Maggie by James Dillon White.

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