Gripped by the tale
Dean Vincent Carter
Bodley Head Children's Books
I must confess, I nearly put Hunting Season down after the first, thoroughly uninspiring line of: "Talbot sighed like a deflated football". But I'm glad I didn't. Although I couldn't be further from the target audience of key stage 3 and 4 boys, I really enjoyed this werewolf horror thriller. It is pacy and well written, although not overly challenging. The story centres on Gerontius Moore, orphaned when his parents were clawed and chewed to death in the Austrian Alps by some mysterious animal. Eight years later, he finds himself once again caught up in something he doesn't understand and, quite rightly, doesn't like.
There follows a 26-chapter flight through central London in the company of Gerry, cousin Leah, and Mason, a well-armed petty criminal with a heart of gold. So far, so cliched, but Carter has an unarguable storytelling talent that wins through.
He sets a breakneck speed, which ensures an easy and compelling read. Central London, especially the National Gallery, is gaily bestrewn with body parts (largely baddies, so that's OK) before a resolution is reached and order re-established.
Or is it? As any good thriller should, this lupine tale offers its readers a few twists along the way.
I wouldn't use Hunting Season as a teaching tool as it's not broad enough in appeal or scope. However, libraries should lap it up - especially those that are trying to entice reluctant readers or teenage boys whose repertoire is limited to Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer and Darren Shan. Maybe it will even encourage an interest in the National Gallery paintings, which become collateral damage in the plot. Or maybe that's just me.
Tabetha King is an English teacher at Cornwallis Academy in Kent
The Fire of Ares
The Spartans seem to have fallen out of favour as the focus of historical novels; perhaps because they are too "barbaric" for our modern tastes. However, in The Fire of Ares, Michael Ford attempts to redress the balance, by encouraging readers to understand what made them tick.
His central character, a boy who has grown up to hate them, only to discover he is one of them, allows Ford to explore their virtues and vices, which works well.
I found descriptions of the weapons, training techniques and the challenges easy to visualise and interesting, although the author should have made a clearer distinction between invention and reliable history.
But the strength of the book is the positive example of the main character, Lysander. He confronts his weaknesses, temptations and prejudices and triumphs through integrity and courage. His endurance is just what I want the boys in my class to emulate.
The basic scenario does seem rather formulaic. The initial meeting between Orpheus and Lysander is not entirely convincing, and the ending is obviously left unresolved in order to accommodate the sequel.
But, on the whole, I have to agree with my son's verdict that this is a gripping page turner. The scary bits are tense and well spaced through the novel.
Though not yet Young Bond or Alex Rider, I'm sure readers of this book will enjoy discovering Lysander, as my son and I have done, and I'll be recommending my school librarian gets a few copies.
Edna Hobbs teaches at Lytchett Minster School in Dorset.