Powerful debuts

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
SKELLIG. By David Almond. Hodder Pounds 4.99. THE TERRIBLE QUIN. By John Brindley. Orion Dolphin Pounds 4.99.

These novels, both the first children's books from their authors, could not be more different stylistically, but both are utterly gripping reads.

David Almond's quiet prose achieves the extraordinary feat of creating a character so fantastical that one never once doubts his reality. When Michael and his family move house, his baby sister is desperately ill. The loneliness and fear he feels become focused on the creature he discovers in the rotting garage. Skellig - part owl, part angel - is saved by the love and concern that Michael and his new friend, Emma, have for him. Full of images of flight, laced with acutely observed detail, this is a tender and powerful tale which has a poetic and psychological accuracy. A marvellous and unnerving debut.

John Brindley's thriller is written in a fast present-tense slang, as edgy and angry as Maria, the central character. Maria and her little brother, James, have been abandoned by their mother. When their father, a computer expert, disappears, Maria embarks on a search for his former workmate, Uncle Peter, whom she believes will help.

This book crackles with a latent violence that is both gripping and truly stomach-churning. The children's betrayal by Peter is as horrifying as it is believable. The reader becomes as protective of little James as Maria is, and as helpless in the face of the apparently psychopathic albino thug, the Terrible Quin. With only pages to go, my heart was in my mouth. Cliff-hanging stuff indeed.

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