Action and intrigue

7th March 2008 at 00:00
A teacher and a pupil cast their professional eyes over two adventurous children's books

Tom Fletcher and the Angel of Death. Sarah Matthias. Catnip Publishing. pound;10.

I found this novel difficult to get into. Some of the sentences were too long and overly descriptive with unfamiliar words - certainly beyond the scope of an average nine to 11-year-old. I also needed to refer back to the list of characters before the prologue as the story did not readily place them in context. This interrupted the natural flow of the storyline on a number of occasions.

The plot is set in a monastery in the year 1220 and involves murder and blackmail with Tom Fletcher, a novice monk, acting as detective.

Sarah Matthias has tried to grasp the reader's attention immediately by describing in the prologue how a young boy had been eaten by a lion being kept in a cage at the monastery. This heightened expectations which were not met in following chapters.

It was not until halfway through the book that I began to feel the characters came alive and my interest awakened. As the plot unfolds, Tom and his friends develop their own personalities, allowing the reader to sympathise with their cause. There is also some humour between The King's Justice and his Clerk, which adds light relief - as well as tension - to the plot in that the murderer needs to be revealed before the incorrectly accused is killed in his stead.

I had hoped to learn more about the customs and life in the 13th century from this novel and certainly there are a number of references to festivals, medicines and the disquiet between religions. However, I did not feel that I had been completely transported to a different era.

I enjoyed the second half of the book, which certainly gathered pace. The plot is interesting and includes a number of twists and turns but takes far too long to unravel. More suspense is needed and clues given to fully engage the reader.

The book is divided into neat, bite-sized chapters but there are few cliffhanger endings. Some of the words used are difficult and not found in everyday use, particularly with regard to the target age group. It could be used as a springboard for discussion on the merits of right and wrong and to add background to life in the 13th century, but overall it is not a book I recommend as a "good read".

- Linda Walmesley teaches art and design at St Edmund's Catholic School in Dover, Kent.

Special Operations: Dogfight. Craig Simpson. Corgi Children's. pound;5.99.

"Oh no, it's about the war," was my first response to this book. I've never much enjoyed novels centered on that period of history. Perhaps this is because many written for children focus on the plight of evacuees who are packed off to some boring place in the country, away from all the action. This book surprised me though, because it's based on two Norwegian teenagers (Finn Gunnersen and Loki Larson) who are pretty much in the middle of it all.

The action begins before Norway is invaded and drawn into the conflict. Finn's dad, a pilot, has gone to fight and Finn is left with his older sister and mother. I found Finn's character sympathetic and easy to identify with because he's brave, yet vulnerable.

The fact that it's written in the first person, from the point of view of someone my age, made it more appealing.

Craig Simpson's writing drew me in and made me forget about what year it was, and focus more on the action. Dogfight is written in a modern way, so it is far easier for today's readers to get into than books written years ago.

The first few pages are taken up with pictures and information about the aircraft that you come across later in the book, which helps those who don't know much about them.

It also makes the book attractive to readers interested in engineering and mechanics, as well as history.

At 352 pages, the book is long but full of action. This doesn't, however, mean that you lose sight of historical fact. Dogfight gives a fair amount of information about the Second World War and in a unusual way, because it's set in Norway.

I was interested to view the war from another perspective and learn about the resistance movement in Norway and how people tried to overthrow the Nazis.

Unusually, instead of building to one big action-packed scene at the end, action was consistently paced throughout, which made the ending a little anti-climactic. This isn't a major concern though, it just made it different.

Dogfight is a twisting tale of conspiracy, action and espionage, and I highly recommend it.

It would particularly appeal to boys who have enjoyed authors such as Robert Muchamore or Anthony Horowitz.

Oisin Fogarty, 14, is home-schooled in St Albans.

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