Fantasy brought to life

Fiona Lafferty

Unlikely Exploits: Book One, The Fall of Fergal
By Philip Ardagh
Illustrated by David Roberts Faber pound;7.99

Storymaze: The Ultimate Wave, The Eye of Ulam
By Terry Denton
Allen amp; Unwin pound;4.50 each

Shock Shop series:
The Scream
By Joan Aiken

Hairy Bill
By Susan Price, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Long Lost
By Jan Mark, illustrated by David Roberts

Macmillan Children's Books pound;9.99 each

The ever-present voice of the narrator in a novel is not an easy device. It can seem arch and become an irritating distraction. Philip Ardagh uses it brilliantly in The Fall of Fergal, the first book in his new "Unlikely Exploits" series. His quirky tone is infectious and, as one might expect of this author, the plot is far from conventional.

The McNallys - Fergal, Jackie, twins Joshua and Albie - are travelling to the capital (unspecified), where their sister Le Fay has reached the finals of the Tan'n'Type typing competition. They can only afford two return coach tickets, so the twins are trying to look like one person and Fergal is dressed as a baby. The book opens with Fergal lying dead on the pavement, having fallen from the window of Le Fay's smart hotel room; in flashback, we learn how he got there. Black comedy indeed, but comedy it most certainly is. The tantalising ending will leave readers in Year 5 and above clamouring for more.

Terry Denton also engages readers with his wacky narrative voice in his first two "Storymaze" books. The series is set in parallel universes through which characters travel by means of "genetically engineered biomorphs"; the complex plot centres on twins, Icon and Vidor, who are vying for the kingship of the Planet Duryllium. In The Ultimate Wave, Icon is surfing the universe in search of the perfect wave. The Eye of Ulam continues the quest with each of the brothers in believing he has the true "eye". It is fast-moving, outlandish nonsense, presented partly in comic strip, partly in narrative, but never patronising. It will appeal particularly to boys of eight and over, even those who never stray far from a screen.

Joan Aiken is on spine-tingling form in The Scream. Using the Munch painting as a focal point, she weaves a chilling tale. David and his sister Ly-Lyn have lived with their grandmother since their parents were killed in a car crash that left David paralysed. Ly-Lyn has inherited special powers from the old woman, and when she tries to warn off the boys who are making her life a misery she sets in motion a terrifying sequence

of events. A slight volume in appearance, this tautly written story packs a punch and will grip those in Year 5 and above who are not easily spooked.

The Shock Shop series is notable for outstanding writing, guaranteed by its use of proven children's authors. Susan Price's Hairy Bill is a bogle - an obsessively tidy ghost who lands in Alex's bedroom, the family having inherited him.

The Bassett family in Jan Mark's Long Lost also inherit from a distant relative, but this time it is money. Gilbert Bassett-Milne has inherited the title of baronet from the same relative and the two families are brought together. Bertie, snooty son of the new baronet, is jealous of George's family wealth and tells him tales of an ancient family curse on eldest sons. Both stories have a frisson of excitement, but both are more surprising than frightening and will entertain fluent readers in Years 3 to 5.

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Fiona Lafferty

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