by PAUL STEWART and CHRIS RIDDELL
Reviewed by Miss Walsh
STAR RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
RECOMMENDED YEAR GROUP: 4
INTERESTS: pirates, treasure, cake, mechanical inventions, ships, sailing
THEMES: adventure, travel, deception, missing parent
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL LOVE:
The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell,
Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken
MY THOUGHTS: a plucky underdog doing his best to help his mum and friends and who ultimately saves the day (of course!)
Fergus comes from a poor family; his mum works at a bakery and his dad was a ship’s captain until he disappeared many years ago. There is little money spare and so when a ‘school ship’ docks in the town’s harbour offering free scholarships for successful candidates, Fergus auditions and is accepted. The five students spend their days running Tunnel Exercises and learning the art of pot-holing. Fergus’s days are proceeding as usual until one night a mysterious flying box arrives at his window with a message. The box returns a further two times warning Fergus of great danger. When a flying mechanical horse appears, Fergus of course jumps right on and is spirited off into the night to the mountain stronghold of his long lost uncle. There, a plan is uncovered involving his father, the school ship and fire diamonds. Fergus’s friends are in grave danger and only he can help them! Unfortunately, he returns too late and the ship has already left in pursuit of the legendary fire diamonds. Pursuing them on flying mechanical horseback, can Fergus get there in time to save his friends from a fiery fate and locate his shipwrecked father in the process?
This is a detailed tale, as is the typical style of Stewart and Riddell novels, that is told in such a way it does not become overbearing to the reader. Stewart’s wonderful descriptive flair and attention to detail bring the characters to life magnificently, and Riddell’s distinctive illustrative style is put to effective use throughout. There is a higher text to picture ratio compared to ‘Ottoline’, which is partly why I suggested an older audience. The second reason for the older age suggestion is Stewart’s use of subject-specific, higher-level vocabulary. This may cause accessibility issues for younger readers, but it could still be used as a good class novel for Year 3 with that adult support in place to understand the terminology used.
The book is filled with eccentric and likeable characters, and the descriptions and illustrations could lead to some great character development work. There is an example of a Captain’s log book in the story which could support first-person recount writing such as diary entries or even their own log book. The fictional destinations could be used to inspire travel writing and there are several examples of newspaper articles that could be helpful as models. There are a few surprising twists and turns that should keep readers engaged and I feel it is equally appealing to both girls and boys. Another solid story from the delightful partnership of Stewart and Riddell.