Raging Robots and Unruly Uncles

By Margaret Mahy

Rating: 4 stars

Finding this in a pile of books that my cousin was about to throw away over Christmas, I was hit with a wave of pure nostalgic pleasure, so I had to grab it to read again before he did so. It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I did so, though, since books that one loves as a child don’t necessarily hold up the cold light of adult inspection. Thankfully, that’s not the case for this one, and other than an assumption that girls won’t be accepted as electronic engineers, and a rather unfortunate episode of brownface, as the the two robot-haunted brothers try to escape their pursuers using boot polish to disguise themselves as “Middle-Eastern gentlemen”, it holds up very well.

There’s so much clever wordplay and puns that it’s a joy to read, and, I’d imagine, great fun to read out loud. It has a strong central message of following your own dreams, and working hard to achieve them, despite what those around you want, and even has time for a short digression on the free will of humans versus that of our creations.

A wonderful children’s book, with some really inventive child-friendly swearing and over the top characters.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140318173

Maddigan’s Fantasia

By Margaret Mahy

Rating: 2 stars

Garland Maddigan is part of the travelling circus known as Maddigan’s Fantasia. Travelling through a post-apocalyptic world that is slowly remaking itself after the Destruction and Chaos, this trip they’re on a mission to find a Macguffin and bring it back to their home city of Solis. When two young boys appear in front of Garland out of nowhere, claiming sanctuary in the Fantasia, the trip suddenly becomes even more fraught with adventure and danger.

This was quite a frustrating book. There’s a good story in there but it’s let down by niggling inconsistencies, duex ex machina and inconsistent characters. Protagonist Garland’s mood swings with the chapters, as does her apparent intelligence, although this can be somewhat excused as grief for her lost father, Ferdy, the Fantasia’s ringmaster (not a spoiler, it happens right at the start of the book and the first chapter is entitled ‘Losing Ferdy’), but I felt that Garland and her mother’s grief were clumsily handled.

The villains following the runaway boys start off as menacing, but their threat is reduced as they are soundly beaten by the Fantasia in every encounter whereas the ‘Big Bad’ pulling the strings in the background, the Nennog, always feels somewhat abstract, even when he appears “on screen”.

The book could have done with one fewer set piece to provide more time for the conclusion which was rushed and confused. In particular, the actions of the Duke of Solis came completely from nowhere and there were no reasons given for him behaving as he did, leaving me feeling confused and cheated.

There were some fun set pieces, and cool bits, and Garland’s final farewell to her father was nicely handled but this is a book that failed to deliver on its possibilities.

Book details

ISBN: 9780571230167
Publisher: Faber Faber
Year of publication: 2005

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