Saga and sequels
It's been a long wait between the fourth Harry Potter book and the final part of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy (to be published on November 1), but devourers of extended fantasy tales need not go hungry. There is enough in this larder to appeal to a wide range of tastes.
Part two of Louise Cooper's MirrorMirror tale, which got off to a spunky start in Breaking Through, continues in fine style in Running Free. Angel Ashe and her new friend, Winter, attempt to use the time-travelling device from the first book, the mirror sculpture, to leave Zone Bohemia.
Lack of experience leads to a series of mishaps which threaten to leave them trapped in one of a bewildering number of parallel worlds as they try to avoid the machine's creator. This is fun but thin fare compared with Cooper's earlier and deeply satisfying trilogy, now published in the same Silver fantasy series by Hodder Children's Books. Daughter of Storms, The Dark Caller and Keepers of Light tell the compelling tale of Shar, a girl born in a supernatural storm and destined to face the unleashed forces of darkness. The characters of Shar and her companions, Hestor and Kitto, are fully developed and there is genuine depth to their reationships.
For those who prefer a lighter style, Jenny Sullivan's Book of Gwydion series, which began with the unfortunately titled but highly readable The Magic Apostrophe, charts a schoolgirl's discovery that she is a witch in a family of witches pitted against the dreadful Perkins tribe. Fans of the trilogy can now find out how Tanith's shape-shifting companion, Gwydion, got into mischief in the first place in a recently published prequel, Gwydion and the Flying Wand.
I have never been keen on talking animals or understood my 10-year-old son's passion for Brian Jacques's popular Redwall books, so it was with misplaced trepidation that I approached The Stones of Fire titles from Australian author Rick Wilkinson. These are high-class adventure tales with beautiful descriptions of Aboriginal land: the bush, the water courses, the skies. When Japara and Wahn, two jerboa, set off with a bandicoot called Guruk to search for a missing uncle, they discover that an ancient secret has been stumbled upon and Mamaragan, the Great Serpent, has been roused. The snake's servants, the Warrigals (dingos), are seriously frightening and I found myself deeply moved by the tender explorations of trust and friendship.
Finally, for the lover of old-fashioned fantasy romance comes The Seer and the Sword, a debut for the promising Victoria Hanley. A flame-haired princess is given a battered war-captive boy as a slave by her all-conquering father, the King. Their lives are to be bound together in the terrible train of events brought on by his assassination. This is an ambitious love story: "Their lips met, and time opened the blissful arms of eternityI" JANNI HOWKER