Young fiction


by Jeanette Winterson


It’s been said before but I’ll say it again: given the abundance of superbly written children’s fiction, it’s an unfathomable mystery why mediocre books turn into world-beating intergalactic franchises, while excellent ones go almost unheralded. Whitbread prize-winner Jeanette Winterson’s debut children’s novel is vastly entertaining and almost terrifyingly imagined in its scope, its casual satire and its Roald Dahl-esque insights into adult behaviour. Its range is breathtaking, veering from quantum physics (yes, really!) to Egyptian mythology via alchemy, Victorian lunatic asylums and the Inquisition. This might all sound a little daunting for young readers, but, amazingly, it isn’t — thanks to Winterson’s action-packed narrative and its courageous orphaned heroine, Silver.

The world is beset by Time Tornadoes, into which busloads of schoolchildren regularly disappear. A multinational called Quanta appears, headed by brilliant scientist Regalia Mason, offering the world’s bewildered leaders a solution: Quanta will stabilise time in return for sole future rights to trade in time. The politicians fail to see the trap being sprung and — with the benefit of a bit of time travel to the future — we see how Quanta becomes the The Quantum, which has replaced governments, parliaments, banks, laws, the military and even God. Time is taken from the poor and vulnerable and sold to the rich: Time Transfusions literally suck the life out of children blown into the future by the Time Tornadoes and pump it into pampered and powerful people, who watch the years melt away before their eyes.

Silver holds the final key to the ancient Timekeeper, which has been lost in the Sands of Time, and Mason is determined to have it. But she is not alone in her pursuit. Abel Darkwater, the head of a sinister Victorian outfit called Tempus Fugit, is also after Silver.

Silver joins forces with Gabriel, a member of the subterranean dwelling Throwbacks (he has a woolly mammoth as a pet), and they travel through Space-Time to the end of the Einstein Line, a space colony where time refugees are quarantined and processed. They uncover a horrifying truth and band together with a gang of “blow-in” kids in a race against time to save the world.

Characters such as John Dee, Pope Gregory XIII, Stephen Hawking and even Schrödinger’s cat make an appearance in this incredible book, which is accessible yet powerful enough to spark the imagination of even the most Play Stationaddled child.

Soul Eater

by Michelle Paver

(Orion Children’s Books)

Nicole Johnston

The third novel in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series shows why these books continue to be so popular — and not just with young readers. Torak has inherited a gift from his father: he can enter the spirit of any animal, bird or fish. With this great power comes terrible responsibility and the clans of the primordial forest have reverence and revulsion in equal measure for his gift.

Just as the clans cast out his father when he became a spirit walker, they view Torak with suspicion; they are afraid of the great evil they fear he could unleash upon them. A group of wicked mages, the Soul Eaters, plan to unlock the door to the Otherworld and unleash demons that will awaken the speck of evil that lies in the marrow of every living creature, sowing dissent, bitterness, anger and greed.

The mages say they are speaking on behalf of the World Spirit, claiming it is angry that the clans do not all worship in a uniform fashion (a theme with some resonance in the global climate of religious intolerance). They kidnap Torak’s pack-brother Wolf, luring Torak and his only friend Renn — a skilled huntress and healer — into the terrible frozen Far North.

Paver again evokes an utterly believable world (set circa 4000BC) in which we see humans learning to adapt and survive by showing respect for all living creatures and the rhythms of the natural world. Paver’s meticulous research into wolf behaviour and language, ancient hunting, healing techniques and human belief systems makes this an enthralling read. There are apparently three more books planned for this series, which just keeps getting better.

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