Jungledrop

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).

jungledrop map

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.

jungledrop

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…

Rumblestar…

…or why I love Abi Elphinstone’s books*

*I am about to wax lyrical for a bit, so if you only want to read what I thought of Rumblestar (I loved it) then, in the words of Spaced legends Daisy and Tim, “skip to the end”.

Abi Elphinstone took a place in my reading heart with her Dreamsnatcher trilogy. I came to it late, which was lucky as I devoured them one after the other.

This is a brilliant adventure – starring a bold heroine and filled with a magic, riddles, journeys into the unknown, friendships, terrifying villains and obstacles to overcome. Truly original.

Then came Sky Song, a love letter to nature, loyalty and acceptance, which was released last January and was suitably seasonal – with an Ice Queen, it glittered and glistened with winter magic as it conjured Narnia, The Snow Queen and fairy tales.

Then this March came Everdark. Released as one of the World Book Day £1 books, it was a wonderful teaser and taster, an excitement-builder-extraordinaire as it introduced us to The Unmapped Chronicles.

Smudge is a typically unlikely heroine and Bartholomew a truly splendid sidekick (if you don’t love a slightly haughty, golf-loving monkey then I don’t know what’s wrong with you). There’s a huge adventure crammed into this tiny book!

Which left me even more excited for Rumblestar, the first of the Unmapped Chronicles ‘proper’. (You knew we’d get to it eventually!)

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone. Cover art by Carrie May and Jenny Richards.

I was incredibly lucky to be gifted a copy of this from Abi and Simon and Schuster – thank you! All views are my own.

This book. Oh, this book.

Let’s begin with that gorgeous cover. Even the proof was exciting – it had a gold hot air balloon on it for goodness sake! – but when the real cover was revealed I was even more excited. It’s so atmospheric, with really map-like feel to it and I think it fits the book perfectly.

Can’t get any better? Wrong. I’ve just found out there’s an actual map inside too, courtesy of Patrick Knowles. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love a map in a book.

Definitely can’t get any better now though, can it?

Erm, yes it can. There’s also going to be a Waterstones exclusive version with blue sprayed edges…and a BONUS CHAPTER! Trust me, after reading this you will want this bonus chapter. I feel like I need a bonus chapter every day until the next book comes out! I have pre-ordered mine and am very excited.

And so, onto the book itself.

It is the first of the Unmapped Chronicles, three books set in the Unmapped Kingdoms (three books which, unusually but refreshingly, do not need to be read chronologically) where evil harpy Morg and her followers, The Midnights (incidentally, I really think there should be a band called Morg and the Midnights), are trying to take control of the Unmapped Magic, thereby creating ruin not only the Unmapped Kingdoms, but also the Faraway (our world) whose weather is created by the Unmapped magic.

Eleven-year-old Casper Tock hates risks, is allergic to adventures and shudders at the thought of unpredictable events. So, it comes as a nasty shock to him when he accidentally stumbles into Rumblestar and meets Utterly Thankless, a girl who hates rules and is allergic to behaving, and her miniature dragon, Arlo. Can they save the Unmapped Kingdoms and our world from the clutches of Morg and her Midnights?

I loved this book.

The end.

Ok, I’ll expand, but once I’m back in work, this is going to be one of those books that I just shove into people’s hands whilst babbling incoherently about how much I loved it.

For me, this book has taken all the best bits of Abi’s previous books and then added its own unique magic and gone one up on them all – it’s her best yet. It bears all the hallmarks that make her books so fulfilling and enjoyable to read – unlikely heroes, adventure, a truly wicked villain, a cast of weird, wonderful and wildly different beings and messages of bravery, loyalty, tolerance, acceptance and individuality.

Utterly Thankless is The Best (I mean – she’s called Utterly Thankless, of course she’s The Best). Don’t believe me? “Chop chop! No-one likes a lazy criminal.” This quote makes me grin every time I think about it and sums her up so well. In her own words, she’s “not cross, just unbelievably fierce” and she’s not wrong (ever. Even when she might be just a little mistaken.) Brave, feisty, independent and seemingly so self-assured, she’s a true armadillo (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside – Dime bar, anyone?!)

One of the things I love best about Abi’s writing is her understanding of her characters, and by extension people in general. They are always so well fleshed out – their voices so entirely ‘them’, their actions believable and what you’d expect from them, their flaws explored with sensitivity and warmth. And both Utterly and sidekick, Casper, are perfect examples of this.

Casper is Utterly’s opposite which makes them a really enjoyable team to read, especially as we see their friendship develop. Likewise, it’s lovely to see Casper’s confidence grow over the book. We have all at some point known or been a Casper, and I guarantee you’ll be rooting for him. And then there’s Arlo – a lesson in modesty and loyalty, this quietly clever little dragon will steal your heart. Especially when he’s sleeping in a sock.

One of the other things I love in all of Abi’s books is the world-building, and Rumblestar is no exception. While the worlds she creates feel incredible – full of wonder and magical creations, her knowledge and love of nature and places all over our world make her new, invented kingdoms all the more vivid and true. The whole concept of the Unmapped Kingdoms and the way their magic creates our weather is inspired.

The imagination and creativity on show here are INCREDIBLE. From weather scrolls to drizzle hags, sky fly to cloud giants and snow trolls, there comes idea after idea which pops with the fantastic and magical. There are nods, jokes and twists on things we know and love as well as other completely original and wonderful things – the Just-In-Case, oh how I loved the Just-In-Case.

And that ending!

While it’s clear that Abi is well-versed in children’s literature herself (only readers make good writers) and there is evidence of a wide range of influences (the Lofty Husks seem to come straight out of Discworld!) There are little nuggets of nostalgia dotted throughout the book – familiar enough to feel cosy, but different and trivial enough to make you wonder if you’re reading too much into things! A dragon curling up in a teacup for a sleep mid-feast is a case in point. Either way, it did what the best books should and occasionally gave me the biggest smile, reminding me of other favourite books from childhood whilst at the same time being nothing at all like them!

It’s a story of discovering exactly what courage looks like, of finding friendship in unlikely places, of wondrous places and magical creatures, of celebrating differences and sticking up for each other, of adventure and danger and feeling the fear but doing it anyway, of the most inventive, creative and apt vocabulary, language and phrases, of rivers and forests and mountains and castles and clouds and hot air balloons (it can’t just be me that thinks there’s something inherently magical about a hot air balloon?)…

I could go on and on about this book (more so than I already have) but it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and has gone straight into my favourites. I am already bursting with excitement for both “Chapter 2 and a half” in the finished, Waterstones exclusive edition and, mostly, for the next book in the series.

WWW Wednesday 3/4/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

I mentioned last week how I’d chosen to read the e-book of this (from the library) on my phone so I can read in bed without waking Peapod!

It’s been a perfect choice for these overnight reading and feeding sessions. It’s fairly short (I should finish it in the next couple of nights, if not overnight tonight) and an easy read that maybe won’t be in any of my ‘Top….’ lists but is nevertheless very, very enjoyable.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m still really enjoying the Harry Potter audiobooks and this is one of my favourite books in the series. Mostly because it makes me so angry (Dolores Umbridge especially, but Cornelius Fudge and Percy Weasley, I am also looking at you!) but also because of The Order itself which is filled with some of the best people. (How under-rated is Lupin in the series?!)

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

I feel so lucky to have been sent a proof of this, I have been looking forward to it for ages having read her books and, though I’m only a chapter in, it is well and truly living up to expectations! Magical!

I’ve got the proof version, but the real cover (designed by Carrie May and Jenny Richards) was revealed on twitter last week and it’s stunning. I’m a big fan of a map in a book and this has that feel on the cover.

As an Abi Elphinstone aside, I found out this week that she has a picture book coming out in late October too! How flipping exciting!

What have you just finished reading?

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi.

I don’t even know where to begin trying to talk about this book! It was fantastic, in both senses of the word. I’ll be reviewing it (as best I can!) this week or next, in the meantime I’ll leave you with the knowledge that it was excellent but with the advisory note to redd it in big chunks if you csn – it’s much easier to follow than if you’re only managing little snippets at a time!

What are you planning on reading next?

I’ll definitely be continuing with Harry Potter on audio. I’ll be starting Half Blood Prince this week.

I’m going to read the next Apprentice Witch book – A Witch Alone – as an overnight ebook too!

It’ll be a while before I finish Rumblestar, so I don’t know what physical book will be next. I have an absolute stack to get through! Scavengers by Darren Simpson and the final installment in Alice Broadway’s Ink Trilogy, Scar, are both hig on the list though.

Having finished Gingerbread, I’d also really like to find time (hahaha, I know!) to read some of the adult fiction titles sat patiently waiting on my shelf too, but I have no idea yet how I’ll manage this!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?