Great escapism

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Tony Bradman on children's fiction rooted in legendary figures

Here Lies Arthur By Philip Reeve Scholastic pound;12.99 10-plus

The Alchemyst By Michael Scott Doubleday pound;12.99 10-plus

I Am The Great Horse By Katherine Roberts Chicken House pound;6.99 10-plus

It's a brave writer who decides to take the Arthurian legend as their next subject - so many authors have been there before that it might seem impossible to bring any real originality to it.

But that's just what Philip Reeve has done in Here Lies Arthur, one of the best historical novels I've read for a long time. The true events behind the legend are seen by Gwyna, a slave girl in a brilliantly described and very violent Britain of the Dark Ages.

She encounters all the main players, fulfils a vital role in everything that happens, and is a totally engaging character. Wonderful prose, great storytelling; Philip Reeve (best known for the Mortal Engines quartet) gets better and better with each new book.

Reading Michael Scott's The Alchemyst reminds me of the first time I went into a giant American supermarket: there is so much on offer here that I feel overwhelmed.

It opens in present-day San Francisco with twin teens Sophie and Josh finding themselves drawn into a titanic battle between ancient forces of good and evil.

In one corner stands the alchemyst of the title, the immortal Nicholas Flamel, and in the other stands, well, just about every monster of legend that there's ever been. And that's the problem - the storytelling is often hampered by too much exposition, not to mention the passivity of the twins as characters. But it's the first in a trilogy, so things might improve.

The story of Alexander the Great has been told many times before, but never until now entirely from the viewpoint of Bucephalus, his famous horse.

The horsiness of the narrative certainly makes the book different, and will appeal to pony-mad readers. It also means that Bucephalus as a central character is often just an observer, which puts a little too much distance between the reader and the feelings of the humans in the story.

It's a great read, though. All the highlights of Alexander's career are there - the early days in Macedon, the assault on the Persian Empire, Alexander's apotheosis - and the tale romps along through plots and battles and sieges. It's rather like Bucephalus himself, probably Tony Bradman has just published a retelling of Macbeth with AC Black

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