Sunday 14 February 2010

Review: Maskmaker by Jane Johnson

In a town in which the inhabitants are plagued by dreams, Jamie Wave sleeps on undisturbed. Is he the only person in Cawstock not suffering from nightmares?

At school, they make masks in the Art lesson. Jamie and his friend Jinny make a tiger mask. Jamie has gone to a lot of trouble to get it just right: with wire for whiskers, fake fur and realistic markings it looks really good. But when he puts it on something very strange happens. Jamie -- for a few seconds -- becomes a tiger! Has he been touched by magic, or is the magic already inside him.

Jamie Wave is about to find out in a series of adventures that will see him solving riddles in the Sahara desert, battling a terrifying shaman in the Arctic and pitting his wits against an ancient dragon beneath a Chinese lake... (synopsis taken from the author's website)

First of all..... what a stunning cover! It first caught my eye when someone posted an image of it on Twitter, I then read the synopsis, thought it sounded great so I managed to persuade the nice people at Scholastic to send me a copy. I have since discovered that Jane Johnson has written several other books for children - The Eidolon Chronicles - although Maskmaker is not part of this series.

I really enjoyed reading Maskmaker, although it is quite difficult to categorise it. It has elements of fantasy, horror and adventure in equal measures, as well having a healthy dose of humour laced throughout. These elements combine perfectly to make an entertaining and thrilling story - yet another book I had to force myself to put down in order to get some much needed sleep this past week.

When I was a child, my favourite TV show was Mr Benn - I loved the concept of trying on a costume, walking through a magic door and finding myself in an adventure appropriate to that costume. The premise of Maskmaker is very similar - Jamie finds himself drawn to the mysterious Maskmaker's shop in a run-down part of town, and through actions beyond his control he finds himself walking through a portal in space and time wearing the mask of a Tuareg warrior, and ends up in the Sahara Desert in 1663. Throughout the rest of the book this happens to him again on several occasions, each time a different mask taking him to another far-off location on a reluctant mission for the increasingly sinister Maskmaker.

Jamie's character is well developed throughout the story. He is one of life's victims, bullied at school with only his ability to make said bullies laugh with his vast repertoire of jokes to save him from a major beating. As the story progresses he uses this ability to great effect in the various exotic locations he finds himself in, but in these places it is no longer his lunch money he wants to keep hold of.... now it is his life at stake! However, despite us seeing Jamie become a far stronger character through these tests, it does become a little repetitive after a while and so I would suggest, as the publishers do, that this book is suitable for the 9+ age group as older readers may find the repetition a little annoying. For those younger readers however, this remains an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable adventure story.  

The horror elements in the story will not give children nightmares, but are enough to have them jumping nervously at the nighttime sound of a hooting owl or barking dog, for in Maskmaker these animals are the servants of the evil King of Shadows. The author uses Jasper the talking cat, and the banter that develops between him and Jamie, to help lighten many of these more menacing scenes.

Maskmaker is published by Scholastic as a paperback edition and is due to be in stores on 1st March 2010. 

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