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Monday, 3 January 2011

Review: Ravenwood

Author: Andrew Peters

Release date: May 2011
Genre: Literary Children’s Fiction, Fantasy
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Chicken House

Summary from the Publisher’s website:
Fourteen year-old Ark has the squittiest job on Arborium, the last forested island in the future. A poor plumber’s boy, he unblocks toilets in the city where he lives – a breath-taking, mile-high world carved out of the vast upper branches of a giant canopy of trees.

He believes his forest kingdom to be the dullest but safest place on earth. But while at work, he over hears a plot between a powerful councillor of the island and a secret envoy from Maw, a superpower of glass and steel, that intends robbing Arborium of its wood, a natural resource now more precious than gold.

Ark is plunged into danger and soon he finds himself on the run, fighting for his life. Together with new found friends, he must travel from the highest tree-tops to the darkest roots of Ravenwood to save his home and his people.

Ravenwood is an imaginative feast of a story. It is both a coming of age story and an epic fantasy-esque adventure set within the forested island of Arborium.

It is the story of Ark Malikum, a Dendran who lives in Arborium. The son of a plumber, Ark has now taken on his father’s job as a sewage worker keeping the pipes free from blockages. Ark’s tale begins when he overhears a traitorous plot against King Quercus. He flees in fear of his life and so begins his great hero’s story.

The world-building in this novel was extraordinary. There is a whole world of people living in the trees of Arborium because of an evolutionary need. The world we know of humans has long been polluted by our greed and ignorance of taking care of the planet. While I was reading Ravenwood, I was marvelling at the ingenious concept of merging our human expressions and customs and transforming them to work for the world in which the novel is set. The author transforms forms colloquial sayings of our culture into the living language of Arborium. This sentence really tickled me: “Then he turned and ran, hoping to catch Ark before he did something totally conkers” (pg. 205). There are many many of these quirks and as an adult reader I delighted in getting all the puns the author intended.

The themes of this novel are in fitting with the setting. Through Ark’s journey we learn about the ecology of Arborium and how each part of the world is dependent on the other. Then there is the issue of progress versus the status quo. Should humanity always be moving towards advancement and new technologies? If we do, then what are we leaving behind? Ravenwood also explores the consequence of what happens when man turns against nature. For all these reasons, I can see this book being a great resource in the classroom as well as a great adventure story.

There are some things that distracted from my enjoyment of this book. The first was that the beginning is heavily weighted in description rather than dialogue so it felt slow to get moving. The second was that the Rootshooters who live in the darkest places of Arborium are written with a dialect. Some of that dialect was difficult to read and because I was deciphering it rather than reading it, I felt that it removed me from the story in those times which was a shame.

My favourite character in the story was Ark’s best friend Mucum. He is lovable quick-witted fool who lightens some of the darkest scenes. The characterisation in this novel was eccentric and I loved that about it. Even the villains are well-layered which is often something that I think gets overlooked in children’s fiction.

Ravenwood has the feel of returning to traditional fantasy adventures. Maybe it is the coming of age story? Maybe it is the lean towards literary fiction rather than commercialism? But then, what better way to write a book that considers the themes of man versus nature? I think the target audience will love this book. It reminded me of Tunnels and Toby Alone. And yet it can more than stand on its own two feet as the tale of one boy learning the truth about who he really is.

If you'd like to read an extract of Ravenwood, please follow this LINK

Thanks to Chicken House Publishing for sending the book for review.
Read for the British Books Challenge 2011.


asamum said...

This does sound fascinating especially the whole conservation angle I think.
I might have to give this one a go myself but it is definately going on the library wish-list. Thanks for the great review :D

kirsty at the overflowing library said...

fab review - I have this on my shelf to read sooner rather than later (and for the BBC challenge no less)

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Wonderful review! Wonderful and honest. I can tell you enjoyed the book. I am amazed by the world in the book, sounds fascinating. It's actually a fantasy place I'd visit.