Thursday Next is the heroine of an alternative twentieth century world. A bold, courageous woman, she has returned from a military career in the Crimean War to take up a post as a Literary Detective. She has the ability to jump in and out of famous books and alarmingly, some of the characters can jump out of their novels, changing the plots. In the first novel of this series Thursday changes the ending of Jane Eyre to the far superior conclusion we are familiar with.
At home in Swindon, Thursday lives with her pet Dodo, Pickwick, wondering what happened to her father, a special operative who may be trapped in another dimension. George Formby is the first president of the English Republic, elected after successful liberation from the Nazis. Thursday’s active life makes relationships hard to maintain but there is romance on the horizon. Her story is full of humour, mishap, heroism and extraordinary situations which particularly appeal to a bookaholic.
I am not sure whether this book is as well known these days but it has to be included in my A to Z of favourite book characters.
The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.
Taller than a house, the Iron man stood at the top of the cliff, on the brink, in the darkness.
In my early days of teaching in the 1970s, most primary schools classes read The Iron Man together. The length of a novella and with the essence of a folk tale moved into the 20th century, its unpredictable plot and simple messages appealed to boys and girls alike. As a poet, Ted Hughes was sparing in his words and how much he told his readers. The man made of metal is clearly described but we do not know where he has come from. Because he is eating tractors and farm equipment, the locals dig a large pit and a boy called Hogarth lures the Iron Man into it. But next Spring the Iron Man springs back out, so Hogarth leads him to a heap of scrap metal. They become friends and the Iron Man is accepted by the local community. Subsequently the Iron Man meets a “Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon” and together they help to restore harmony and peace amongst mankind.
“Haven’t you heard of the music of the spheres?” asked the dragon. “It’s the music that space makes to itself. All the spirits inside all the stars are singing. I’m a star spirit. I sing too. The music of the spheres is what makes space so peaceful.”
I have long been a fan of Terry Pratchett, but my particular favourites are the books about the Guards, Death and the witches. If you’ve not read his books I wouldn’t recommend starting with “The Colour of Magic,” his first Discworld book. Try “Wyrd Sisters,” and meet the indomitable Granny Weatherwax.
The best way to describe Granny Weatherwax is to list a few quotes from the books:-
- It was one of the few sorrows of Granny Weatherwax’s life that, despite all her efforts, she’d arrived at the peak of her career with a complexion like a rosy apple and all her teeth. No amount of charms could persuade a wart to take root on her handsome if slightly equine features, and vast intakes of sugar only served to give her boundless energy.
- She was aware that somewhere under her complicated strata of vests and petticoats there was some skin, that didn’t mean to say she approved of it.
- Granny’s implicit belief that everything should get out of her way extended to other witches, very tall trees and, on occasion, mountains.
- Granny Weatherwax was like the prow of a ship. Seas parted when she turned up.
‘If you can’t learn to ride an elephant, you can at least learn to ride a horse.’
‘What’s an elephant?’
‘A kind of badger,’ said Granny. She hadn’t maintained forest-credibility for forty years by ever admitting ignorance
- Looking into Granny’s eyes was like looking into a mirror. What you saw looking back at you was yourself and there was no hiding-place.
- At home Granny Weatherwax slept with open windows and an unlocked door, secure in the knowledge that the Ramtops’ various creatures of the night would rather eat their own ears than break in.
- She was a good witch. That was her role in life. That was the burden she had to bear. Good and Evil were quite superfluous when you’d grown up with a highly developed sense of Right and Wrong.
When all hope was gone, you called for Granny Weatherwax, because she was the best.
And she always came. Always.
Charlie Bone is the hero of Jenny Nimmo’s fantasy school adventures written between 2002 and 2009.
After his father’s death, Charlie Bone has lived with his mother and her mother, in the house of his other grandmother, Grandma Bone. Looking at a picture of a couple with a baby and a cat, he suddenly discovers he can hear their voices. Although he tries to hide his new gift, Grandma Bone and her scary sisters soon find out, and send him to Bloor’s Academy where the evil head boy, Manfred, is constantly finding ways to make his life miserable. When Charlie discovers that the child in the photograph is being held, hypnotised, against her will, he and his new friends with ‘gifts’ try to awaken her. But they will have to overcome Manfred’s hypnotic power first.
Charlie is a thoroughly likeable boy who just wants to be ordinary but having been been given a gift he must use it for good. This endowment comes from his family since they are descended from the Red King. When he meets the fiery cats, Sagittarius, Leo and Aries, he gradually learns more of his past and therefore his future.
Charlie may sound similar to Harry Potter, but this series of books remains suitable for middle grade children and the plot is very much driven by conversation.
William Nicholson was the playwright who wrote “Shadowlands” and “Gladiator” so it may surprise you to read that The Wind Singer is a children’s book (or at least young adults). It is a dystopian fantasy, centred on Kestrel and Bowman Hath, twin sister and brother who live in the city of Aramanth with their mother, father and baby sister. In Aramanth everyone is ranked and housed according to their success or otherwise in examinations. From the first toddler test to check whether a baby can identify colours and is out of nappies to the advanced tests for the father of the family.
The Hath family live in the Orange sector which we would identify as being for blue-collar workers although they are obviously intellectually superior but don’t toe the line. Kestrel is strong and independent and always protects her sensitive, fey, twin brother Bowman. The whole Hath family are closely tied by love and are torn apart by a mistake made by Kestrel. She and her brother realise that the city will only become whole and normal if they can find the missing part of the Wind-Singer a strange tower erected by another race thousands of years before. Their quest takes them on a long journey accompanied by Mumpo, a very simple boy who loves Kestrel. Their journey, bravery and adventures make up the rest of the story. It sounds predictable but it is a compelling read and this is both a complete story in its own right and part one of a trilogy with very different, more demanding events in the next two books.
I think this is essential reading for today’s constantly tested young people, especially the children of competitive parents, but it is also a very enjoyable read for any adult who enjoys a fantasy read.
The Wind Singer at Amazon UK
After reading The Invisible Library I was looking forward to this second volume of the series in which Library Agent, Irene Winters, faces another challenging mission in alternative worlds. Her handsome apprentice, Kai has been kidnapped and taken to an alternative Venice ruled by the Fae, therefore rampant with chaos.
Unaided, she must rescue Kai, before the Dragons, lords of “order,” declare war with the Fae. Setting out to find him before it is too late, Irene makes unlikely alliances with a group of followers of important Fae patrons, as they travel on an incredible train which can move between worlds. Adopting a carnival mask and an all covering cloak she attempts to move around the dark alleys and gloomy canals of Venice, incognito, but she constantly finds herself in increasing danger from the evil Lord and Lady Guantes.
The city is described in rich detail, maintaining its reputation for murder and fear. Irene is a bold, creative agent who uses her story telling powers to create narratives which bend reality to her purpose. Her powers of using the Library Language to open locks and change the state of matter, help her in her task, but cause her pain and exhaustion. This colourful story is full of vivid images of the iconic buildings in Venice and the sumptuous mythical train, which are a delight to read. Although all the essential background story is given, you will gain most by reading Book One The Invisible Library first.
The Masked City is available at Amazon UK
More about Genevieve Cogman and The invisible Library
“He smiled at Bradamant dazzlingly. Irene felt a little of the overspill of it, the burning surge of slavish desire and passionate adoration, and felt the brand across her back burn like raw ice in reaction. She also felt a quick burst of relief that apparently Silver hadn’t recognised her as a Library agent. She was still incognito for the moment.”
My current read is tremendous fun, a steampunk romp through an alternative world with Irene, a strong-minded, intelligent Librarian solving a crime while on a mission to take a precious Fairy Tale book back to the Invisible Library. While mentoring a handsome, but troubling assistant she finds she also has to deal with her bitterest personal enemy and a dangerous foe who is trying to kill her. It is a fascinating novel, filled with humour, danger, adventure and mystery -all the right ingredients. And there are three more books to follow!
Genevieve Cogman got started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an MSC in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.