Many of you will probably have noticed that things have been a little more cobwebby of late on Literary Relish. That is to say, I’ve not been here as often, having become quite determined to ‘get my life back’ as it were.
That all sounds rather melodramatic. I do, of course, have a life but … as February drew to a close I was feeling pretty sick of sitting on my backside with my head in a book (or in front of a computer screen) every hour of every day. After an epiphany one day as I caught sight of my pallid, flabby complexion in the mirror at work, I formally decided to take my foot off the gas and post and read as and when I like. This may sound crazy to some but I know more than a few bloggers with full-time jobs/families, etc, who put themselves under unrealistic pressure and end up blowing up once in a while as a result. Lately I have started running, spent more time with my friends, in the garden, read and written as and when I want and am chuffed to say I am feeling more alive. Phew!
Along with this new attitude I have delved into my own TBR to read some books I have been meaning to get around to for years and mixed up my ARC reading a little. Starting with a children’s book! Given that my mind has been clearly frazzled of late, Django Wexler’s fantastical new adventure was just the ticket as part of my rest and recuperation program….
Calling the heroine of your children’s fantasy novel ‘Alice’ was always going to be risky business. Why bother? Although this could be either an entirely random or calculatingly deliberate choice, it strikes me as a call to arms from Wexler in his wondrous adventure into the gloomy world of The Forbidden Library.
Alice is a fairly ordinary girl, living a fairly ordinary, comfortable life with her father in a great big house in town. One night, she hears strange noises and voices coming from the kitchen. Who could her father be arguing with? Creeping down to peep through the door she is flabbergasted to see a fairy…or some such airborne monster, conversing with her father, albeit in a rather threatening manner.
Has the world gone mad? Surely fairies can’t be real…..or can they? Alice’s logical, practical mind is soon turned upside down as, after losing her beloved father in a shipwreck, she is forced to leave her home to live with her ‘Uncle Jerry’; a mysterious man whose life, and library hold more than meets the eye. Uncle Geryon is a Reader and it turns out that Alice probably is too. As the secrets of the library unravel before her eyes, Alice finds herself plunging into the books contained within the great collection to capture the beasts within and hone her craft.
After reading book after book of ‘hard stories’ over the past few months, usually featuring persecuted women of some kind, it has been an absolute delight to get swept away for a change. What better way to do that than a plethora of talking cats, dragons, sprites, trees and little bird things. A true adventure. Parents will be happy to know that Alice happens to be the perfect role model for every strong young girl out there. Calm and practical, she takes even the oddest happenings in her stride and is, crucially, rather uncomfortable breaking rules. Although she soon learns that this is sometimes a necessary evil….
The Forbidden Library, as the name might suggest, is bound to be an absolute hit with book-lovers young and old. After all, however scary things get, what could be more exciting than working inside a magical library and being able to dive into books at will? This story focuses, essentially, on the immediacy and magic of a really good book and the sheer breadth of Wexler’s imagination simply flabbergasted me. Besides your traditional themes of good/evil, etc, the usual creatures we find in children’s fantasy (dragons, fairies…) are there, but are a complete departure from the traditional images we have. Particularly the dragon, who under Wexler’s pen becomes rather lumpy and lumbering, rather than the fire-breathing elegance we’re used to.
This book was great fun and, if you have children within the right age bracket (10-14 years?), I implore you to pick this up as a birthday gift as it’ll give you a good enough excuse to read it too! Having stormed through this on my ereader, it was an absolute pleasure to nip into Waterstones and explore the hardback in person. Though I must say the pictures depict creatures much more terrifying than I had in my mind’s eye and I’m quite glad I didn’t have them there to distract me on the first read.
All in all, just the ticket for my ‘brain out, cabbage in’ month and one that has, along with a beguiling article in this quarter’s Slightly Foxed magazine on Narnia, got me thinking. I’ve read many children’s classics but there are some (such as C.S Lewis’ books) that I have never picked up. It’s all very well biting my nails at how little Dickens I’ve read but how about starting at the beginning? …
A Ladder of Chetham’s Library by Eric Magnuson via Flickr