…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.
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.