I was lucky enough to be offered a copy of this for review and I am beyond tardy in posting it – I’m sorry! All views and opinions are my own.
Jungledrop by Abi Elphinston, illustrated by George Ermos
As most of you will already know, I am an absolutely massive fan of Abi’s books and had been VERY, VERY excited about this since finishing the absolutely tremendous Rumblestar last May.
Following that was never going to be easy, but rest assured Abi’s done it again!
This is the second full length book in the Unmapped Chronicles, each of which sees children from the Faraway (our world) journey to the Unmapped Kingdoms, where our weather is made, to defeat the evil Morg as she tries to gain control. But unlike many series, these can be read out of order quite easily.
While this book refers to the events of Rumblestar (we bump into one of the characters from that book in this and I was so excited when I realised who it was!) but you don’t need any prior knowledge and there’s no real spoilers from reading this one that would prevent you going back to enjoy Rumblestar (or Everdark).
So, in we go. We’re heading back to the Unmapped Kingdoms, this time on a magical train to Jungledrop, with the brilliantly named twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble.
I have to hand it to Abi, when it comes to names, she gets them spot on – with Utterly Thankless in Rumblestar and this pair here (not to mention Heckle, Total Shambles, Tedious Niggle and more!) I can’t wait to see who she comes up with in the next installment (yes, I’m already excited for the next one before this one is out!)
We meet Fox and Fibber in a wonderfully Dahl-esque scene in which we’re also introduced to their frankly awful parents. This horrid pair have no interest in their children, they see them only as useful tools to make money and develop their shady and deceitful businesses.
They have taught them the Petty-Squabble way of life, namely to stomp on anyone and everyone who gets in your way. To show kindness is weakness. It’s every man, woman and child for themself in this household and if you’re not making the family businesses money, you’re looking at a one way trip to Antarctica. Thatcher would have loved them.
Fox and Fibber are therefore brilliantly bad (at least at first!) They are probably the most ‘unlikeable’ characters ever to set out (begrudgingly and with alterior, selfish motives!) to save the world and readers will both delight and despair at their unbelievable rudeness, bad manners and selfish ways.
Written with a lot of humour, which children will love, it is also underpinned with a real understanding of human nature and the effects we all have on each other, especially that of influential adults on children in their care.
The way we’re asked to consider the reasons behind behaviours, and the way in which the seeds of change are gradually sown and grown in this pair really gives the characters a depth and credibility, as we see their internal struggles with what they know and what they’re coming to realise from those they meet. Indeed, to write such seemingly disagreeable protagonists and have us utterly invested in them, rooting for them and caring about them almost as soon as their adventure begins is no mean feat!
The supporting cast are also a wonderfully eclectic bunch. Doogie Herbalsneeze is fab and I would love a spin off featuring him. Total Shambles stole a little bit of my heart and the Lofty Husks were a sense of calm power – I loved how different they were to the Lofty Husks in Rumblestar, and the message they gave our twins (and us) about leadership and authority, that respect should be given but also earned, and that kindness, empathy and fairness are emphatically strengths not weaknesses.
And then there’s Heckle. Oh, Heckle! If you’ve read Everdark and liked Bartholomew, you are going to LOVE Heckle. And if you haven’t, well you’ll love her anyway! She is the brilliant companion to the twins’ adventure as she candidly and drily shares both her views and the thoughts of those around her.
As well as the characters, there’s the flora and fauna and inhabitants of Jungledrop. Abi’s books always overflow with imagination and her world-building is extraordinary. I don’t where the ideas come from or how she keeps them coming and keeps each world do unique, but Jungledrop is every bit as fantastical as you’d expect!
There’s glow in the dark plants, sloths having bubble baths, a treetop unicycle network, a tantrum tree that will not stand bad manners, hunchback trees full of faces… Then there’s the Constant Whinge with the Jungle Apothecary’s peculiar potions, cures and remedies; Doodler’s Haven with it’s only waterfall, hissing cauldrons and canvasses of all kinds of rain…
And, my favourite – a forest of weird and wonderful trees and plants that make me wonder if Abi ever watched Greenclaws as a child (I’m aware that reference will be lost on most but I couldn’t help but think of the useful and impossible plants he grew in his tree when reading about the Chapterbarks, Left-Behinders and Gobblequicks!)
Sadly, there’s also the destroyed areas of Jungledrop – those ravaged by drought or by Morg and the description of the Faraway with no rain for months either, which are equally well written but rather more sobering as they highlight, as Abi’s books almost always do, environmental issues, especially those linked to climate change, and our role in protecting the planet.
Which leads us of course to the return of Morg and the Midnights (still think someone needs to call their band that). This time there’s a rather Wizard-of-Oz-like band of monkeys (with a brilliantly imaginative and clever twist) scurrying through the jungle, malevolent and mischievous, doing her bidding, led by fearsome giant ape Screech.
Tense, dark and dangerous, its hard to see even nearing the end of the book how Fox and Fibber can come through and defeat Morg, especially as so much seems stacked against them. But
“Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more powerful than a child in possession of a plan.”
The writing itself is fantastic – each word and phrase well-placed and, as you’d expect, the use of language is rich, playful and an utter delight to read.
As ever with Abi’s books, I haven’t come close to doing this justice or to putting into words exactly why it is so great and what it is I love so much about it.
Suffice to say though, I do love it – cleverly written and with humour and imagination absolutely oozing from its pages, it’s a thoroughly gripping adventure with danger lurking at every turn. Threaded through this are strong themes of kindness, growth and treating both other people and our world with respect and consideration, making this a book brimming with both excitement and heart.
I now return to waiting impatiently for both my finished, pre-ordered copy and the next Unmapped Chronicle…