I didn’t realise it was a children’s book when I started reading this. I’m not entirely sure, even now, that it is, truth be told. If it /is/ a kids’ book, it’s aimed quite high. Not that that’s a bad thing; being patronised is horrible, even when you’re seven. But, being aimed a little high, it actually makes rather good adult reading.
Once more, this is a case of me being sold on something because of its Classical links. I am nothing if not predictable. I thought that the author must have been an archaeologist or historian herself, from the writing, but it turns out not. She was some sort of early literature-ist. Either way, she knows her stuff. The Latin was all right, as far as I could tell (and believe me, the amount of Latin that even big-budget films and intelligent books get wrong is astonishing… you’d think they’d just /pay/ someone to do it if they couldn’t themselves… I’m looking at you, Van Helsing film) and she got her terminology all correct. She talked about “potsherds”, which seems not to be a term anyone outside of academia uses much. She also endeared herself to me by using a small herd of archaisms that please me (and which I use myself) such as “gaol” and putting an apostrophe before “phone”. Not that any of this is important, but it’s all very lovely.
I’m going to work on the assumption here that this /is/ a children’s book and judge it accordingly. If it isn’t, then my views are somewhat different, but never mind.
For a children’s book, the plot is good and the characters well described. While it is obviously going to turn out ok, because, well, it always does, it is not immediately obvious how and some of what happens is, if not surprising, then at least not necessarily quite what you expected. It goes at a fairly slow pace, I have to admit, and may overdo the details in part, but it doesn’t drag, and it at least devotes some of those details to exploring the goodies and baddies of the cast. The characters for whom you are meant to feel real sympathy are not exclusively purely good. Bony Jay, for instance, is a little selfish and greedy at times. And they all seem like very realistic, plausible characters. The baddies (mostly Trystram but also some thieves) are less well developed, but are at least rooted in reality. To go into it in any depth would be a spoiler-ridden hole, but certainly it is believable that the people should be as they are. They’re all fairly mediocre villains, all out for their little bit, and so you can buy into it, even if they aren’t given much balance. There are flashes of slightly more adult vices (a few issues about cleavage and other things) but they’re all minor and entirely fine for the genre.
However, the book isn’t /brilliant/. It’s still got that simplified feeling that children’s books have, and the sense that everything will work out. It is still a book where a child talks to little men in a field (not fairies, but they really could be). It’s not really complicated in any way, in plot or morals or characters, and that’s a waste, even in a children’s book. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I don’t think so. Kids can probably handle some complex morals and plot twists, even at the age of seven. I think I spent 89p on it (once more revealing how much of a cheapskate I am now I have a Kindle) and while it’s worth that, I’m not sure I’d advise spending more than £2.50 on it. Had I been seven, I’d have /loved/ it. At 22, I rather like it and would certainly buy it for a child interested in history and fantasy stories (so my seven-year-old self) but I wouldn’t suggest an adult read it, unless they didn’t have much else to do at the time. It’s a shame, as it feels like a good story somewhere in there, but it’s just a little too… childish, I suppose.