Thursday, April 10, 2008

Alan Snow

Here Be Monsters!
by Alan Snow
Recommended Age: Age: 10+

Volume 1 of The Ratbridge Chronicles is a big, eventful, voluminously illustrated introduction to a quirky new fantasy world that may or may not be somewhere in England. It's hard to tell exactly when or where Ratbridge exists; evidently it's very isolated, though, because the people there seem to be out of touch with developments in technology that we take for granted elsewhere. Plus, they have numerous creatures running about that haven't been spotted in our world, creatures such as talking rats, trotting badgers, lonely stoats (that walk on their hind legs), and cheeses that run around on their own legs and make bleating sounds when distressed.

Yes, you read that right: cheeses. And these very cheeses are a pivotal part of this bizarre adventure, which also involves some creatures that are harder to describe: boxtrolls (trolls who collect nuts and bolts and live in, er, boxes) and cabbageheads (shy little people who wear cabbages on their heads). I almost forgot to mention the freshwater sea cows, but you simply have to see the illustrations to believe them.

With flights of fancy reminiscent of Roald Dahl, Alan Snow introduces this strange city of Ratbridge through the eyes of a boy who lives in the caves under it: young Arthur, a frizzy-headed waif who is first seen flying over the city on a pair of mechanical wings and talking with his subterranean grandfather through a doll shaped like himself. A lot hangs on said wings and doll, after Arthur is caught spying on an illegal cheese hunt and a loopy villain steals his wings. It seems the city's long-defunct Cheese Guild has risen again, and is plotting a hideous revenge that involves a stolen invention, a lot of kidnapped creatures, a bit of cross-dressing (wince), despicable instances of police corruption, and an act of hideous cruelty that can only be described by the word Fondue.

I have no idea what to expect from Volume 2 after this outrageous adventure. Until that book comes out, however, enjoy this goofy story and its many crude but expressive illustrations. And if nuts and bolts start disappearing off your workbench... let them go.

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