Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Returning to Sylvie’s house, they find it has been ransacked by unknown intruders – before a mysterious feather scratches an ominous message onto the kitchen wall. A very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape – only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, where ordinary objects have amazing powers. The forces of evil are closing in fast, and Ivy and Seb must get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it’s too late.

I mentioned in the review that I posted yesterday that recently I have been experiencing a reading slump. I have so many children's books in my TBR pile that look wonderful, but every time I have come to select one to read I have just felt meh! and picked up an adult or non-fiction book instead. The last time this happened (a good few years ago) it took the brilliant Small Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans to pull me out of my malaise, and this time it was this wonderful debut novel by Jennifer Bell, followed in quick succession by Gabrielle Kent's second Alfie Bloom book.

Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that  I am a sucker for any children's or Young Adult story that reimagines London in some way or other. Sarah Silverwood's The Nowhere Chronicles, China Mieville's Un Lun Dun and Tom Becker's Darkside series are all books in this vein that I have loved, but I loved The Crooked Sixpence even more. It's as if Jennifer Bell has been able to scoop up all the most magical ingredients of these other books, blend them together and then bake them into a cake that is even better.

I have also mentioned several times in the past that Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is one of my all-time favourite books, and The Crooked Sixpence is most definitely Gaiman-esque. In a similar way to what Gaiman did in Neverwhere, Bell takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, and in the process has created a truly imaginative (and more than a little bonkers) alternative London society, hidden away from us mere mortals but also living in tandem with our own. And I can't believe that the Lundinor of The Crooked Sixpence is not in some small way inspired by Neverwhere's Floating Market.

The Crooked Sixpence is the first book in The Uncommoners series, with this particular term referring people who keep the secrets of uncommon objects for all off us commoners. Uncommon objects are everyday objects (toilet brushes, lemons squeezers, paperclips... the list is endless) that hold magical properties as a result of containing parts of the souls of the human dead. Thus we have lemon squeezers that give out light, colanders that filter air and paperclips that work as habdcuffs. Jennifer Bell's imagination is up there with the very best of current children's writers, and she must have had enormous fun coming up with all the different alternative properties of these everyday household items.

Ivy and Seb, the brother and sister protagonists have a very typical relationship, whereby sometimes they get on and sometimes they bicker and disagree, but ultimately will do anything to protect each other from harm. Ivy is most definitely the star of this first book, with Seb being much more of a secondary character; she is brave and resourceful, and has joined Abi Elphinstone's Moll as one of my favourite female characters of recent years.

The Crooked Sixpence has something for everyone: action, adventure, magic, a villainous secret society, a crazy alternative world full of weird and wonderful items, and an ages old mystery that is just begging to be solved by Ivy, Seb and their new uncommoner friends. This is a book that I preordered months ago, as there is been a lot of buzz and excitement about it among middle grade bloggers and book sellers in the run up to its release. It is certainly one of my favourite books of 2016 so far, and should have appeal to readers of all ages. Definitely a must-buy to keep your 9+ kids occupied this summer! 

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