Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

‘I’m a messenger!’ bawled the nomad. She was even younger than the young guard, perhaps having seen only sixteen or seventeen of the harsh winters of her homeland. Her lustrous skin was acorn brown, her hair black, worn in a plaited queue that was wound several times around her head like a crown, and her dark eyes appealing. ‘I claim the message right!’

With the Abhorsen, Sabriel, and her husband the King on holidays, the Abhorsen-in-waiting Lirael is responsible for protecting the Old Kingdom from the Dead and any Free Magic creatures. The last six months have been quiet, but two messages are coming her way. One, carried by a stranger from beyond the walls, is in danger of not being delivered because its carrier, a girl named Ferin, is being pursued by sorcerers determined to stop her. The other message, carried by a messenger hawk, is more successful in getting through. It’s from Nicholas Sayre, who Sabriel feared she might never see again. When she responds to the message she finds him unconscious, near to death. To help him heal, and to learn more about the taint of Free Magic he carries, she must take him to her childhood home with the Clayr. With Nicholas safe she must turn her attention to the other message – one which predicts great danger for the Old Kingdom.

Fans of the Old Kingdom series will be delighted with this latest installment, featuring favourite characters including Lirael, Sabriel, Nicholas and Sam, alongside new ones. Nix seemingly weaves his stories with the magic that is found in his world. The Old Kingdom is a richly woven setting, and the people and beings that populate it are intriguing. This is deeply satisfying fantasy at its very best.

With a bonus Old Kingdom story, Goldenhand is divine.

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758634

 

Also in the Series:

Sabriel
Lirael
Abhorsen

Clariel (Prequel)

Star of Deltora: The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda

She hurried to the porthole and looked out. The sky was filmed with cloud through which the sun glowed sullenly, casting an eerie yellow light. The sea was dull and oily-looking. At first she could see nothing unusual. And then she began to pick out dark shapes beneath the surface of the water, many, many dark shapes, and as she realised what they were, the hair on the back of her neck began to prickle.
‘Turtles!’ she whispered.

Although the Star of Deltorahas managed to escape Illica, Britta is still in danger. She must stay in her cabin, safe from the moody distrust coming her way from the ship’s crew, who think she is a witch and the reason the voyage has been beset with problems. In spite of Britta’s protestations, the ship is being surrounded by turtles, seeming to want to steer the ship. Britta soon realises that the Staff of Tier has sensed her, and wants her to come to the Hungry Isle. Could it be that her secrecy has lead her and her friends, including Trader Mab, into terrible danger?

The fourth title in the Star of Deltora series, The Hungry Isle provides a gripping climax to the journey that Britta and her fellow would-be Trader’s apprentices have been on. Britta has managed to keep her true identity – as the daughter of the hated Dare Larsett – a secret, but when everything hangs in the balance, the secret is no longer hers to keep.

Best read after the first three titles, The Hungry Isle is a satisfying conlusion to the series.

The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742991337

The Twins of Tintarfell by James O’Loghlin

When Dani was woken by the cock’s crow, she heaved herself out of bed, dipped her hands in the jug of water that stood on the wooden bedside table, stepped over to Bart’s bed and shook his shoulder.

‘Ma … nurrrr,’ grumbled Bart, rolling away.

‘Come on,’ said Dani. As usual, that didn’t work, so she cupped his cheeks in her cold, wet hands.

‘Or … gonks,’ cried Bart. His eyes flew open and he pushed her hands away.

‘Come on,’ repeated Dani.

Bart reluctantly swung his legs onto the floor. ‘You could have just shaken my shoulder.’

When Dani was woken by the cock’s crow, she heaved herself out of bed, dipped her hands in the jug of water that stood on the wooden bedside table, stepped over to Bart’s bed and shook his shoulder.

‘Ma … nurrrr,’ grumbled Bart, rolling away.

‘Come on,’ said Dani. As usual, that didn’t work, so she cupped his cheeks in her cold, wet hands.

‘Or … gonks,’ cried Bart. His eyes flew open and he pushed her hands away.

‘Come on,’ repeated Dani.

Bart reluctantly swung his legs onto the floor. ‘You could have just shaken my shoulder.’Ma

Dani and Bart are twins. They are servants in Tintarfell Castle and have lived there for as long as they remember. Dani’s the thinker, Bart has an uncanny empathy with animals. Prince Edward is their age, not all that bright and less than excited about being prepared to defend his kingdom. When Bart is kidnapped, Dani’s is sure they intended to kidnap the prince. Once beyond the walls of the castle, each of the three young people discover that their world has included many half-truths about their history.

‘The Twins of Tintarfell’ is a fantastical story about secrets, ambition, magic and more. The baddies are bad, the goodies are in short supply and there’s plenty of action whether or not the characters are looking for it. It tests the bounds of familial ties, and stretches beyond them. As is appropriate in medieval adventures, much bravery is needed. Recommended for mid-primary readers

The Twins of Tintarfell, James O’Loghlin
Macmillan 2016
ISBN: 9781743548097

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Princess Betony Series, by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

“Mother,” she hissed, but her mother didn’t hear. The shadowy figure set out across the terrace and down to the lawn below, heading across the grounds.
Betony’s breath caught in her throat.
Her mother was going into the Dark Forest of Nevermore. She was leaving.

Princess Betony adores the queen, her mother, and knows that her mother loves her, too. But her mother is a dryad, a tree spirit, and misses the Dark Forest. And with the Lord Chancellor, the King’s chief advisor, making life very difficult for the queen, Betony is worried she will lose her to the forest. So, when she sees her mother disappear into the trees in the middle of the night, Betony follows her, even though she knows it is dangerous. She will do whatever it takes to get her mother back – even catch a unicorn.

Princess Betony and the Unicorn is the first of four adventures featuring the adventurous, feisty but loyal Princess Betony. First published in 2012, its has been re-released along with the other three titles. Each features a magical adventure and is beautifully illustrated with grey scale illustrations on each spread, and charming cover designs.

Suitable for young fantasy lovers and those new to the genre, these are gorgeous books which will be treasured.

Princess Betony and the Unicorn (ISBN 9781925381023)
Princess Betony and the Thunder Egg (ISBN 9781925381030)
Princess Betony and the Rule of Wishing (ISBN 9781925381047)
Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin 9ISBN 9781921720260)
Walker Books, 2016

Goblin Mafia Wars by DC Green

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

PT is a sixteen-year-old human and king of Monstro City. Well, sort of. He and the Dead Gang (his monster mates include a giant spider, a mummy, a goblin and a shapeshifting vampire) have completed their first quest and survived. (in ‘Monster School’). Now they are in Dead Zone trying to find their way out. If they can avoid being consumed by dead things. Then it’s off to find and protect dragon eggs. No big deal. All that’s at stake is the survival of the world. The misfit crew have to find a way to work together and repel all manner of enemies from goblins, ogres, zombies and even family. Each new chapter is accompanied by full page black and white monsters.

Goblin Mafia Wars is punny and funny, wild and raucous. Every friendship group encompasses a range of skills, appearances and passions, but nothing you’ve experienced will prepare you for this gang – but perhaps that’s what people think about your friendship group. The best ‘gangs’ include a range of skills and attributes. This is no quest for the queasy – PT and his mates will encounter danger after danger in their search for the dragon’s eggs. They’ll also encounter plenty of craziness. Goblin Mafia Warsis a rollicking read and will be enjoyed by upper-primary and early-secondary readers.

Goblin Mafia Wars, DC Green
Ford Street Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925272208

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Trouble at Home by Cate Whittle Ill Kim Gamble

Ages and ages ago – about two weeks since next Thursday – a giant green dragon stole my baby brother, Godfrey.

Well, okay, the giant green dragon actually stole the house. Godfrey, who is only almost three, was inside watching TV.

I saw it all happen. An actual eyewitness. From two houses down and across the street. At thirty-two-and-a-half minutes past three o’clock. Exactly.

Gran was minding Godfrey while Mum fetched me – Georgia – and my other brother, Henry, from school. Gran wasn’t in the house when it was stolen though.

Ages and ages ago – about two weeks since next Thursday – a giant green dragon stole my baby brother, Godfrey.

Well, okay, the giant green dragon actually stole the house. Godfrey, who is only almost three, was inside watching TV.

I saw it all happen. An actual eyewitness. From two houses down and across the street. At thirty-two-and-a-half minutes past three o’clock. Exactly.

Gran was minding Godfrey while Mum fetched me – Georgia – and my other brother, Henry, from school. Gran wasn’t in the house when it was stolen though.

Georgia returns home from school one afternoon to witness her house being stolen by a big green dragon. No one else saw it though and she has a struggle to convince them that she knows what has happened. Dad keeps trying to convince the family to look on the bright side, but Mum in particular is finding it difficult to see any positives in losing her baby – and their house. Georgia sees clues everywhere but no one will listen to her. It becomes clear to her that she’s going to have to make plans of her own if her house and her baby brother are to be reunited with the rest of the family. Black and white illustrations begin each chapter and are scattered throughout.

Trouble at Home is the first in a new series of stories from Cate Whittle with illustrations by the late Kim Gamble, with three forthcoming instalments listed in the final pages. At first it’s not apparent whether the dragon is a figment of Georgia’s imagination, but as her investigations progress, it’s evident that this dragon does exist. There are parallels with Anna and Barbara Fienberg’s ‘Tashi’ series, not only because they share an illustrator. There is plenty of deadpan humour as the family dynamics and adventures are reflected through Georgia’s first person perspective.  Ideal for the newly-independent reader, chapters are short and there is plenty to giggle at.

Trouble at Home, Cate Whittle ill Kim Gamble
Omnibus Books 2016
ISBN: 9781742990767

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Alyzon Whitestarr by Isobelle Carmody

It starts with my family, and in a way, that’s the whole story.

There’s my mother, Zambia. You probably won’t have heard of her. She’s the artist, Zambia Whitestarr. then there’s my da, Macoll Whitestarr. His stage name is Mac and he’s the lead guitarist in a band you’ve probably never heard of that plays a lot of improvised music. Then there’s us kids: my older brother Jesse; my older sister Mirandah; me, Alyzon; Serenity, who tries to make us call her Sybl; and last but not least our baby brother, Luke.

It starts with my family, and in a way, that’s the whole story.

There’s my mother, Zambia. You probably won’t have heard of her. She’s the artist, Zambia Whitestarr. then there’s my da, Macoll Whitestarr. His stage name is Mac and he’s the lead guitarist in a band you’ve probably never heard of that plays a lot of improvised music. Then there’s us kids: my older brother Jesse; my older sister Mirandah; me, Alyzon; Serenity, who tries to make us call her Sybl; and last but not least our baby brother, Luke.

Alyzon is the middle child in a loving, chaotic, eccentic family. She goes to school, fights with her sisters, looks after her baby brother. Pretty normal, more or less. Until she suffers a freak accident. As she recovers she realises that all her senses are now super-tuned to the spoken and unspoken wants, joys and fears of others. She also discovers a rottenness, a horrible wrongness in some people. After initial confusion, she begins to work out how to protect herself from the intensity of other people’s emotions. But it’s not enough, as the wrongness seems to close in on her and her world, to just protect herself. She needs to know why it exists and how she can protect those she loves.

Alyzon Whitestarr was first released in 2005 by Penguin Books and this new, re-edited, re-jacketed edition is published by Ford Street Publishing. Alyzon is a fabulous protagonist, telling her own story as she tries to understand her world through the lens of her expanded senses. This is a fantasy set in the contemporary world, and explores family, friendship, attraction, trust, betrayal, protection, responsibility and power. It’s a big read at 601 pages but the length is hardly noticeable in this compelling and well-crafted story. Alyzon Whitestarr is a stand-alone novel and an ideal introduction to long-form fantasy for mature upper-primary readers but will also be enjoyed by older readers.

Alyzon Whitestarr, Isobelle Carmody
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272185

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Newt's Emerald, by Garth Nix

9781760112653.jpg‘One – two – three – heave!’ cried the admiral, and the table was slid back in place. He gazed down on its polished surface happily, observed there wasn’t a single irreperable scratch, and then his smile faded like a powder disolving in a glass. A red flush spread up his neck and across his face, and he swayed on his feet as he treid to speak.
‘The Emerald! Where is the – ‘
This was all he got out before he pitched headfirst onto the table, his great bulk making it resound like an enormous drum.

It is Lady Truthful Newington’s eighteenth birthday and, at a small family gathering, her father is keen to show off the Newington Emerald which will one day be hers. The night goes well until a sudden storm hits the house and, in the chaos that follows, the emerald disappears. As her father lies ill, Truthful decides she must travel to London and attempt to recover the heirloom.

Soon, Truthful is balancing twin roles – that of herself, and that of her alter-ego, a young Frenchman. Disgused as a man she can take risks and gain entry to places she never could as a young man. But there are many dangers, not the least of which is discovery.Then there is the risk of falling in love. Truthful must stay safe and focussed if she is to find the Emerald and save her father’s life.

Newt’s Emerald is a treat. In the style of a Regency Romance, the fantasy blends mystery, romance and intrigue, with the addition of magic and sorcery for an absorbing, satisfying whole.

Fans of Nix’s work will find this a little different – but still with the quality we’ve come to expect. Lovers of regency romances such as those of Georgette Heyer will also enjoy Newt’s Emerald.

A ripping read.

Newt’s Emerald, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760112653

Star of Deltora: Shadows of the Master, by Emily Rodda

And at that moment, Britta threw caution to the winds. She tore her eyes from the model ship and looked up at the old man staring at her so anxiously.
‘I will be at the Traders’ Hall tomorrow,’ she said. ‘How can I resist?’
‘Hooroar!’ Gaptain Gripp bellowed, punching the air. ‘Did you hear that, Bosun? She’ll try for it! An’ you mark my words, Bosun, she’ll do us proud! She’ll show those other traders’ daughters a thing or two!’

For as long as she can remember, Britta has wanted to be a trader like her father. But since his quest to find the Staff of Tier brought disgrace to his name and to his family left behind, that dream has seemed unreachable. Now, though, she has a chance. There is a challenge to select the apprentice to the Trader Rosalyn. and Britta is eligible – as long as the townspeople don’t realise who she is. Determined to be selected, Britta risks everything for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Shadows of the Master is the first in the new Star of Deltora series. Set in the same reality as the Rowan of Rinn and The Three Doors series, this new series promises to be as much loved as its predecessors. Readers will bond with the resourceful Britta and her efforts to follow her dreams in spite of her insecurities. Other characters are also intriguing, and it will be interesting to see how her fellow apprentices – three every different characters – develop across the series.

While young fantasy fans are likely to appreciate the book, it also likely to appeal to those who are perhaps less familiar with the genre, because it is both accessible and well-paced, at a length that is not too daunting.

A gripping introduction to what promises to be an excellent series.

Shadows of the Master, by Emily Rodda
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990620

Crystal Force, by Joe Ducie

Irene and Tristan dived for cover but Drake watched the shards fall like sparks opf electric-blue snow mixed with white. They disappearedCrystal Force into the actual snow and melted the hard-packed powder beneath. The lighter sparks were swept away on the wind, marking the prsitine snow with hundreds of tiny burns.

I did that. Whatever it was, it was beautiful, and I did it.

Will Drake is on the run. No longer a prisoner in the word’s supposedly most secure facility, now he’s been branded a terrorist and, with his friends Irene and Tristan, is on the run He wants to get to his mother in England, and help to cure her cancer. First, though, he has to evade the Alliance and get out of Canada. Pretty difficult when the Alliance controls transport, communication – in fact, pretty much everything.  Then there’s the fact that he has special powers – the result of being exposed to the powerful but mysterious Crystal X during his time as a prisoner. Though these powers might help him escape, they are also the very reason the Alliance will stop at nothing to track him down.

Crystal Force is the sequel to the award-winning The Rig and would probably work best being read in order. However, there is enough back story to bring the reader up to speed, and enough action and intrigue to keep them reading. Set in a not too distant future where technology and a mysterious substance with supernatural links combine in disturbing ways, Crystal Force is a gripping read for young adult readers.

Crystal Force, by Joe Ducie
Hot Key Books, 2015
ISBN 9781471404559

Available from good bookstores and online.