6th July 2001 at 01:00
The Wind on Fire trilogyVolume 2: Slaves of the Mastery By William Nicholson Mammoth pound;10.99 TESDirect pound;9.99 "We're all here for a reason," Hanno Hath assures his son Bowman, one of the two heroes of Slaves of the Mastery (the other is Bowman's sister Kestrel). When you have been pursued by 3,000 armed men, numberless hungry ghouls with handsome, smiling faces, and armed landships on fast wheels, you must be here for a reason: over there was just too dangerous.

Add a scornful talking cat with magical powers, a race of loveable Womble-like creatures who live underground and get stoned, and a daffy mother who forgets to sort the washing because she is always prophesying, you cross the border between sword and sorcery into the territory of a novel: to plot, add humour and humanity.

The Wind Singer, the first volume in Nicholson's trilogy, blended outlandish costumes, creatures and magic into a larger vision of the quest for what is truly valuable: a magic brooch symbolising freedom to express the truth. In this second volume, Kestrel and Bowman not only go through many gruelling adventures to reach the land where the brooch was made, but also venture through adolescence. Freedom of expression reveals its price, and to free themselves they have to free their people.

Along the way, subsidiary characters such as the unloved urchin Mumpo, the cat Mist and the spoiled princess Sisi, offer insights into life, love and the deep dramatic stuff of fantasy adventures. Just as importantly, they offer comic relief. In this, Nicholson resembles J K Rowling, and his books should be recommended to eight to 13-year-olds who have read all the Harry Potters and want more.

Victoria Neumark

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