Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Review: Infinity Drake: The Sons of Scarlatti by John McNally

Infinity Drake – aka Finn – is off on holiday with his mad scientist uncle when they are summoned to a crisis meeting. Scarlatti, a lethal bio-weapon – an ϋber-wasp killing machine – has been released by a pitiless villain, with incalculable consequences for mankind.

UNLESS Uncle Al can shrink a military team to track down and kill the beast. But then disaster strikes – sabotage! Finn gets shrunk to 9mm and has to jump in a tiny Apache helicopter with three soldiers in a desperate race to destroy the beast that's out there, very angry and many times their size…

Infinity "Finn" Drake is just your average orphaned boy with an interest in entomology, living with his grandmother (so far, so heard it all before? Well read on as it gets much, much better). At the beginning of the story, said gran is about to embark a much needed break (a cruise around Scandinavia), reluctantly leaving Finn in the hands of his less-than-reliable atomic chemist Uncle Al. Al has promised that he will take care of Finn and make sure he gets to school in time every morning, but as soon as Gran's Oslo-bound plane has taken off Al's true intentions are revealed - he is taking Finn on an insect hunt in the Pyrenees. Sadly, their plans are interrupted before they can even start, and the pair are helicoptered to a top secret facility as Al is needed to help save the world.

It transpires that during the Cold War in 1980s, a British geneticist accidentally created a new breed of wasp, christened the Scarlatti, that was considered so dangerous that thr project was immediately cancelled. However, two specimens were not destroyed and were instead frozen "just in case", and now one of them has been deliberately released in the British countryside. The implications are horrendous - this one Scarlatti is capable of reproducing and thus could lead to the deaths of six billion people across the world within six months. 

A special forces team is charged with tracking and destroying the Scarlatti, but to do so they must be shrunk to a size of little more than 10mm using a technology to which only Al has the key. Unfortunately Finn accidentally ends up being shrunk as well, and as things go from bad to worse to even worse he has to keep up with the trained soldiers and, cut off from the full-sized world, they have to find the Scarlatti, destroy it and any of its progeny, before it multiplies too much, and before the other global leaders decide that the only solution is to nuke Britain.

HarperCollins have published some of my all-time favourite series books for kids. I'm talking The Saga of Darren Shan and Demonata, both by Darren Shan, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, and my own personal favourite - Will Hill's Department 19. With Shan now writing his Zom-B books for Simon & Schuster, and both Skulduggery Pleasant and Department 19 reaching their conclusions, I have been keeping my fingers tightly crossed, hoping that Harper will find something as good to fill this looming gap, and I should never have doubted them as head honcho Nick Lake and the team have pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat again: Infinity Drake: The Sons of Scarlatti by John McNally is everything I hoped for and more.

If I had a checklist of everything I would be looking for in a first-in-series book, then Infinity Drake would have a tick in every single box:

  • Non-stop action and adventure from beginning to end üüüüü
  • An intelligent, brave and, most importantly, genuinely likeable lead character that kids will love rooting for üüü
  • Multiple instances of near-death, life on the line peril for our hero ü
  • A just-as-interesting cast of supporting characters üü
  • A superbly nasty villain with a truly diabolical plan for world domination (and one that we haven't seen before) üüü
  • Great dialogue ü
  • A thread of humour woven though the book, to take the dark edge off the nastiness of the villains plans üü
  • An original concept that we haven't seen in a book for the 9+ age group in recent years ü
  • Smart prose with vocabulary hasn't been dumbed down and therefore challenges readers ü
I think you can probably tell from this that I am a fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Infinity Drake isn't quite Skulduggery Pleasant or Department 19, but it certainly isn't far off. In addition to the above it also comes with the nastiest insects in the world ever - wasps! And not just ordinary wasps either (as far as I am concerned that would be bad enough). These are wasps that have been genetically engineered to have but one goal - kill, kill kill! Life as we know it could be completely eradicated if these things are left to procreate and multiply and kill. And the only thing that has any chance of stopping them is a team of teeny, tiny special force operatives and an equally tiny 12-year-old boy. And at that size these "ϋber-wasp killing machines" are as big as jet planes in comparison.

Please believe me when i say that this is most definitely not Honey, I Shrunk The Kids! (I hate that film & its sequels). Whilst it contains humour, it is never farcical and the peril that is experienced by Finn Drake and his new friends is genuine and written in a way that had my heart pounding and my eyes reading the text as quickly as possible, just to find out what happened next, at which point the author would cunningly cut to a different scene and leave out heroes' fates hanging in the balance for a few pages.

It's very rare that I will read a book and wish for it to become a film, as I have been disappointed far too many times in the past (Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief anyone?. In the case of Department 19 I wished (and am still wishing) for a video game; in the case of Barry Hutchison's Invisible Fiends series, I would have been happy with a set of action figures. However, I think Infinity Drake would make a freakin' awesome movie, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rights have already been snapped up by one of the big Hollywood movie companies.

If you have a 9+ year old boy or girl who loves action and adventure, with a little science fiction thrown in, then put this straight to the top of your 'must-get-my-hands-on-a-copy' list. I was sent a proof copy by the good people at HarperCollins, but I have seen the hardback edition in my local book shops and I am sorely tempted to buy a copy as it looks fab, and this is on top of the multiple copies I will be buying for the kids of friends and family.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like the kind of books that I loved to read when I was a kid (and, I have to admit, still love to read).