Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
|Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Superb text, excellent illustrations and a plot that would stand up in a novel for adults produce a highly recommended book. There is a horror element but it's not overdone and we think that this is a book which will be read (and reread) by boys of about nine and above.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Corgi Childrens|
Barnaby Grimes is a tick-tock lad. These days he'd be a motorcycle courier but Barnaby wears his coalstack hat, a twelve-pocket poacher's waistcoat and carries a sword stick to defend himself as he highstacks over the roofs of London to carry any message or parcel anywhere at any time. It was a quirk of fashion that propelled Barnaby into his first adventure – everywhere you looked the fashionable people wore fur on their collars and cuffs. It wasn't just any fur though – this had to be the Westphalian trim.
One night as Barnaby was on his way across the rooftops he was attacked by a huge beast. It's only with some nimble footwork and more than a little cunning that he manages to get the better of the animal. As if that wasn't bad enough his friend, Old Benjamin the coachman, has disappeared.
Sometimes books for children make me angry. They're sloppily written, poorly plotted and owe more to the marketing department than to literary endeavour. It's a refreshing change to read a book such as Curse of the Night Wolf. The plot is superb. All the clues to how it's going to work out are there, but they're neatly hidden and even as an adult way beyond the target age group I found that I gained a lot from rereading the book. There isn't a loose end in sight as all the various strands – the mysterious beast which prowled the rooftops, the disappearing people and the nature of Dr Cadwallader's cordial – are neatly drawn together. It's the sort of book where you have to read just a few more pages…
The setting is a vaguely Dickensian London and you will smell the glue factory, groan at the claims on the patent medicine bottles and despair at the conditions in which some people lived. It's all there but delivered with a very light touch. There's no exposition, nothing to lose the interest – it's all part of the story. The words would be excellent on their own, but the book has the benefit of illustrations by Chris Riddell, which add an extra dimension to the book. They're elegant and intricate with something new to be found each time that you look.
The star of the book is, of course, Barnaby himself. He's of uncertain age – old enough to be independent and young enough to be nimble on the rooftops – but positive and forward looking. You might not want your children to be skipping across the London skyline, but that apart he's a young man that children will aspire to be like. The oleaginous Dr Cadwallader will make you squirm and there's a whole cast of supporting characters, from the city lawyers and the fashionable swells to the gangs who roam the less salubrious areas of the capital.
Apart from the intrigue there is horror. A particularly sensitive child might find parts of the book distressing – people and animals die – but it's not overly gory and there are no unnecessary descriptions. The spine felt a definite tingle, but the stomach never lurched.
The writing is superb. It delivers a period feel without ever descending into pastiche. The vocabulary is challenging – Paul Stewart never underestimates his readers and certainly never patronises them. Some words may demand assistance but the book will more than repay the effort of reading it. Highly recommended.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
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