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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Review: The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone


Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare - the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. Because Moll is more important than she knows...The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher's dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure.






If you read my Books of 2014 post from a couple of weeks ago then you will already know that this is going to be something of a glowing review. In fact, I really wanted to post a review sooner, but every time I've sat down to write it my mind goes blank and I can't come up with the right words. In the time I have been writing this blog there have been a handful of books that have made me feel small and inferior, with every sentence I write sounding clumsy and amateurish, and The Dreamsnatcher is another one to add to this somewhat exclusive list.

The book tells the story of Moll, an orphan girl who has grown up under the protection of Oak, the formidable leader of a gypsy camp. As such she has a rather large extended adopted family, some of whom accept her as one of their own unreservedly, whilst others still fel that there is something about Moll that doesn't quite fit in. This is especially the case with the other girls in the camp, as Moll would much rather be running riot in the forest, getting dirty whilst having all kinds of fun adventures.

Oak isn't Moll's only protector though. Always lurking on the fringes of the camp, and tracking her through the forest, is her beloved Gryff, a wildcat that just appeared one day, as if he was destined to be by her side. The relationship between Moll and Gryff is a magical one, and it grows even stronger throughout the book as the evil forces in the forest attempt time and again to capture Moll for their own despicable purposes. Publishers Simon and Schuster claim on the back of the proof copy I received that "Moll's relationship with Gryff has a strong Pullman-esque quality". By this I am guessing they are drawing parallels with Lyra's bond with her dæmon Pantalaimon. However, in my opinion Moll and Gryff's relationship is far more like that between Torak and his wolf companion in Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. I must state though that I'm basing this on only so far having read Wolf Brother, the first book in that series, which I read at the end of 2014 (funnily enough, after Abi Elphinstone herself had waxed lyrical about the series on Twitter. I loved it and now need to find the time to read the rest in the series).

Moll is a fabulous character and she has already been added to my personal pantheon of great young female characters in books. It is great to see yet another middle grade book that is high on the action and adventure front, with a strong, courageous female character who can hold her own, especially  in the somewhat patriarchal society that is the gypsy camp. Moll is totally impulsive and headstrong, often doing things that she has been forbidden from doing, but she has an irresistible charm that makes her very difficult to tell off. She is the kind of kid that would be a nightmare to teach at school, as she would always be up to mischief, but would blag her way out of trouble with a disarming grin and a string of ridiculous excuses.

The darkness to Moll's light comes in the form of Skull, a witchdoctor and leader of a 'rival' group of gypsies that live in the same forest. Skull is evil personified and ranks up there amongst some of the all-time great villains of middle grade fiction. However, whereas in many of those books it is the villain that makes the piece so memorable, somehow Abi Elphinstone has managed to make the character of Moll so strong and memorable that she eclipses Skull's character completely. This is certainly no Luke Skywalker being overshadowed by Darth Vader moment!

The Dreamsnatcher is a classic tale of good versus evil, as well as being a story about friendship, trust and loyalty. The "is it our world with magic in it or is it a fantasy world?" setting that the author has created is a joy to read, as are the various members of this wonderful community of gypsies that will do whatever it takes to protect one their own. There is so much more I want to say about this story and its characters and its magic but I think it is one of those books that will be most enjoyed with as little prior knowledge of the story as possible. 

I've already mentioned this in a tweet I made shortly after finishing The Dreamsnatcher, but I feel it needs to be repeated here: on the back of that proof copy I received Simon and Schuster also bill Abi Elphinstone as 'a phenomenal new middle grade talent' & based on this wonderful debut I would have to agree. Come back here tomorrow to see the magical book trailer that has been produced for The Dreamsnatcher. I saw it for the first time yesterday and it is amazing how much it brings Moll and Gryff to life. So much so that it left me wanting to read the book again.

The Dreamsnatcher is due to be published in the UK on 26th February and my thanks go to Abi Elphinstone for sending me a copy to read.



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