Adam and the Arkonauts by Dominic Barker
|Adam and the Arkonauts by Dominic Barker|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A great and greatly humorous romp of an adventure with a boy rescuing his mother - and a city - with the help of talking to the animals.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: May 2010|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC|
Adam is on a mission. Both he and his father have spent the decade since his mother was kidnapped by an Evil Scientist looking for her, and perfecting their own skills. They might have got the best clue of all so far - one that has led them to the mysterious, hidden, and downright alarming city of Buenos Suenos. Those skills? Being able to communicate with animals. Since learning to gibber like a spider monkey they can both bark, purr perfectly, and more. It will take the extraordinary menagerie to survive the unusual city, and try and discover what happened to Adam's mum - and what the Evil Scientist might want by holding her hostage for the same skills in return.
If this sounds at all unusual and quirky - a father and son communicating with creatures - that is by intent. If it sounds a little old-fashioned, then good - this book is to, in a way. But don't worry that it harks totally back to Hugh Lofting. What it does do is provide a great romp of high drama, great comedy and bizarre fantasy, to create one of the most enjoyable titles of the year.
It's the comedy I found the best element. It doesn't exactly have the oddball silliness that, say, Philip Ardagh or Andy Stanton use for a younger audience. This is still perfectly oddball, and slightly surreal, but measured in such a fine way. If anything I would say it harkens back to Spike Milligan. There are brilliant characters, ranging from the monkey, forever scoffing at how poor the hand us tailless humans have been dealt by evolution, to the army ant who turns pacifist, to the forever bruised fans of low bridges. Brilliant lines come at a one-per-page rate at times.
If anything they do slack off when the adventure kicks in, especially later on, but the sense of the unusual is here too. The city is one holding ground for the mysterious, from the signposts that point in all directions, to the police force (basically, one huge family, cropping up with varying degrees of savvy when they're least welcome). Every siesta the city is held ransom itself by the loudest, most annoying tannoy alarm, irritating everyone into changing their leaders at a forthcoming election.
The fantasy comes across slightly, and in fact I wouldn't really classify this as an out-and-out genre piece. Of course there is a huge pinch of salt to be swallowed before accepting the communicating with all creatures side of things, but take that on board and this is a fabulous ride. Yes it clearly is the opening book in a new series, probably a trilogy by the nature of these things, but the end is perfectly satisfactory, and these broad and engaging characters, their unusual extended family and the brilliant humour with which everything is given us, will definitely make me eager to return to this Ark.
I must thank the kind Bloomsbury people for my review copy.
I would judge this a brilliant sunny breeze for the eight to fourteen age range. They can find a darker sense of the odd in the series beginning with The Train Set of Terror: A Measle Stubbs Adventure by Ian Ogilvy and Chris Mould.
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