Fresh out of the bottle

17th December 2004 at 00:00
The Golem's Eye. By Jonathan Stroud. Doubleday pound;12.99

The New World Order. By Ben Jeapes. David Fickling Books pound;12.99

No Time Like Show Time. By Michael Hoeye. Puffin pound;9.99

Child, teenage and adult readers with time to spare could hardly do better this Christmas than Jonathan Stroud's The Golem's Eye, the second book in his Bartimaeus series. It is 570 pages of pure pleasure as arrogant 14-year-old magician Nathaniel continues his scratchy relationship with the wonderfully cynical djinni Bartimaeus.

Now a tool of the corrupt ruling oligarchy, Nathaniel faces opposition from his envious superiors and from Kitty, who starts out as a young terrorist intent on unseating the magicians who rule for their own benefit.

Stroud has created a fantasy London reminiscent of apartheid South Africa and the former Soviet bloc, and works in many contemporary parallels while forging ahead with his ingenious story. He also writes well, with only occasional lapses into the tired English that characterises too many blockbusting fantasy novels. Fresh, downbeat, witty and wise, this novel is a worthy sequel to The Amulet of Samarkand.

Ben Jeapes is another writer with a wholly original take on fantasy. The New World Order is set during the English Civil War but with the addition of a third force, the sinister red-headed Holekhor race, who come through a gateway from another world. Technically superior with deadly accurate weapons and massive airships, these colonialists from outer space have little to do with King or Cromwell, who are forced into a mutually suspicious alliance. But as events turn darker, 15-year-old Daniel - offspring of a human and Holekhor - has to choose sides. Faced by the realities of saturation bombing, he finally makes a stand.

The horrors of war he witnesses are a reminder that fantasy can sometimes seem in line with world affairs. Violent, sometimes disturbing and with a nice line in bloodthirsty Biblical quotations, this intelligent and gripping story comes from an author who has not previously written for teenagers but who will surely do so many times more.

Michael Hoeye's No Time Like Show Time is the third instalment in the saga of Hermux Tantamoq, the modest, clock-repairing mouse who, however uncharacteristically, cannot help getting caught up in wild adventures.

This time a glance at the Weakly Squeak leads him to a showbiz underworld full of Runyonesque mice characters talking from the side of their mouths as crime and theatrical chaos rages around them. Then there is Linka, dashing aviatrix and adventuress and the undeclared love of Hermux's life, also courted by more confident, aggressive suitors. The romantic interest is worked in with all the author's customary charm and wit.

Hoeye's references to that great classic of rodent children's literature, The Little Mouse on the Prairie, comprise just one of the many good jokes in this story. There are also enough death threats and general violence to maintain the film noir excitement. This excellent story offers something for every type of young reader.

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