Animal cunning

8th August 1997 at 01:00
THE LONG PATROL. By Brian Jacques. Hutchinson Pounds 12.99. THE WELKIN WEASELS. By Garry Kilworth . Corgi Pounds 4.99

SPACE DEMONS. By Gillian Rubinstein. Volumes 1-3 Orion Dolphin Pounds 3.99 each. THE CHRONICLES OF THE MAGI. By Dave Morris Volumes 1-3. Hodder Pounds 3.99 each

At last, a chance to lure the kids away from the TV and computer and on to the printed page. The multi-million-selling Brian Jacques has produced the 10th book in his Redwall series, The Long Patrol.

More adventures befall the elegant hares in their stylish battles with the forces of evil. In this case the great rat Damug Warfang at the head of a "savage crowd of vermin" (rats, weasels and ferrets) threatens the peace of Redwall Abbey where a truly civilised society has evolved around sing-songs and the consumption of redcurrant cordial and candied fruits has evolved. The hares are great role models for boys and girls aged nine upwards "jolly, courteous and kind, but feared by their enemies and totally perilous". And, of course, you are buying into a long-running series, which fosters the print habit.

Garry Kilworth ploughs much the same furrow in The Welkin Weasels, first in a projected Thunder Oak trilogy. But with an unusual twist: here, contrary to all the laws of fiction since The Wind in the Willows, the weasel is the good guy. Stoats are the baddies, ruling the land of the Welkin with an iron paw. Sylver the outlaw determines to find the lost humans and bring them back to restore peace and justice to the Welkin ("Ha!" thinks the cynical human reader).

It's a quicker, slicker read than Brian Jacques, with less of the flavour of chivalry and more of the taste of today in its quips and puns. It's also more of a male read, for 11-year-olds and older.

Tapping deeper into the Zeitgeist, Gillian Rubinstein takes us into the mind of players in computer games. The Space Demons trilogy focuses on a Japanese girl, Midori, whose boffin father Professor Ito has invented a new breed of interactive game in which life and cyberspace are one. Set in Japan and Australia, or, if you like, in virtual time and space, the trilogy neatly weaves old-fashioned morality tales (be loyal to your friends, have the courage to be honest) into a high-tech hall of mirrors where the fascination with special effects is as seductive as the more normal adolescent pursuits.

Definitely one for up to 16-year-olds (both genders, for the girls are sparky and techno-hip).

Younger but still hip boys may be attracted to Dave Morris's The Chronicles of the Magi. The titles say it all: The Sword of Life, The Kingdom of Dreams and The City of Stars. The mixture is familiar: wise men; giant bird; evil wizards (five Magi); pirate king.

A slightly new element has been added in the figures of Altor and Caelestis, the Morecambe and Wise of the epic fantasy genre. Their quest, pursued through all three books of the Magi trilogy (and more to come, no doubt, if successful) is to reunite the pieces of the Sword of Life and fend off the evil power of the Magi.

Caelestis is a languid wise-cracking kind of Oscar Wilde figure, all deceptive strength and haughtiness; Altor more the plain man's hero. Seems aimed at 10 to 13-year-olds about to graduate to Terry Pratchett.

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