Thursday 6 March 2014

Deep Amber by C.J. Busby

Reviewed by Julia Jones

Deep Amber has pace, humour and inventiveness. It's the first volume of a trilogy aimed at 8 – 11 year olds and is also a thoroughly relaxing and pleasurable read for an adult. Things begin to go wrong in Roland Castle when first a pair of swimming goggles, then a camera and finally a scarlet DS arrive unexpectedly. The knights and ladies, servants, squires and student witches are baffled by these unfamiliar objects. Only the Druid in the cellar recognises that they are arrivals from another world and knows that urgent action must be taken. Apprentice witch Dora and kitchen-boy Jem are despatched into the Great Forest to seek advice from the sinister Lord Ravenglass. Meanwhile Simon and Cat living in their great-aunt Irene's house in a gently 21st century world (with plumbing) begin to notice that things are going missing.

What I love about this book is that it never takes itself too seriously. Yes, there are quests to be undertaken and evil to be defeated but there is nothing portentous or sub-Pullman about the rifts between the worlds. The first Forest Agent that we meet is not a giant spider or a High Elf but a bright blue flying caterpillar called Caractacus.  This is an adventure, the writer seems to say: here are runes and swords and incredibly stupid knights in armour – enjoy! When the bold Sir Bedwyr arrives in Sunset Court Home for the Elderly the first resident he meets is already under the impression that she's Queen Elizabeth I. The rest of the octogenarians take the view that it's "a lot more exciting to prepare for battle than for hot milk and biscuits before bed". They cut the phone wires and lock up the management team with enthusiasm. 

Deep Amber is not all farce: Lord Ravenglass is ambitious and unscrupulous and his agents, Mr Smith and Mr Jones, are dangerously creepy. The child characters are attractive (especially the dopey but talented Dora Puddlefoot) and the adults are variously eccentric, benevolent, protective and fallible. There's a crackle of magic in the atmosphere and a rapidly thickening plot which promises well for the subsequent volumes. I look forward to them.

Deep Amber is published by Templar Publishing at £6.99, currently in paperback only


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