Classic children's fiction for the 8-12 age group demands adventure, and the first book in John Dougherty's Bansi O'Hara series offers thrills and dangers aplenty.
Bansi lives in modern day London. The only child of an Irish father and British Asian mother, she has no idea that her parents are descended from two different lines of faery royalty, or that their bloodlines, combined in her, offer certain dark powers the long-awaited opportunity to fulfill a dread and fateful prophecy. On a visit to Ireland to stay with Granny O'Hara, Bansi is befriended by a brownie, Pogo, and Tam, a shapeshifter. They are the representatives of a small band of faery folk who are trying to keep the power Bansi represents out of the hands of the Lord of the Dark Sidhe. But the rebels are few and weak, and soon Bansi and her new friends are facing overwhelming odds.
The classic elements are here: a prophecy, a child forced to come to terms with a unique magical inheritance, a dark lord, the battle between good and evil. But bravely, Dougherty chooses a girl to be his hero. Female main characters in adventure stories for this age group are all too rare. Bansi is brave and quick-witted while remaining believably human. She is an ordinary child thrust into an extraordinary situation, and there are times when it seems impossible that she will survive the magical forces ranged against her. Boys as well as girls will be engrossed by the story's twists and turns and geniunely scary moments.
Dougherty plays with British folklore and also borrows from Greek or European myth as the notion takes him. The invitation to the reader to join in the fun is irresistible. Druids rub shoulders with dwarves and selkies, and Doughtery uses the comic potential inherent in certain types of Good People to the full. But the veil of humour regularly lifts to show the darkness behind the myths. Death and destruction lie in wait for the unwary, and the scene where Bansi is chased by a Bruid, the headless man from European myth, is simply terrifying.
Indeed, one of the things I most enjoyed was the way Dougherty weaves humour and terror so effectively into a single compelling story. Scary is hard to write, humour even harder. Dougherty accomplishes both. His comic characters, such as Bansi's grandmother and her best friend, Mrs Mullarkey, squabble hilariously whilst outwitting the faeries ranged against them. His dark characters are suitably chilling and when betrayal enters the picture, we find that the author deals in shades of grey as deftly as he does black and white. The characters in this book will remain with you after you have finished it. I look forward to meeting them again in the sequel, Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en, out in September.
Published: Corgi Yearling, 2008
Reviewed by: Ellen Renner
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE