Friday, 25 May 2012

Review: Keeper of the Realms: Crow's Revenge by Marcus Alexander

I've just had a flesh-eating giant tearing around my house and now I'm in this strange land I don't know anything about'!

Before she can untangle the mystery that will save Bellania, Charlie Keeper needs the answer to a life-changing secret her guardian, the dastardly Mr Crow, has been keeping from her ...Just who is Charlie Keeper?

I first came across this book some years ago when it was self-published by author Marcus Alexander under the title Who Is Charlie Keeper?. At the time it struck me as being a hugely enjoyable fantasy story for kids, but like many self-published books I felt it needed to go through the hands of a good editor. A few years on and it has been picked up by Puffin and given the editing the story so richly deserved, and what we have now is a well-polished hugely enjoyable fantasy story for kids.

The story follows the adventures of Charlie Keeper, a thirteen-year-old girl who is as good as being an orphan as her parents disappeared mysteriously some years ago. Her life is made all the more miserable by her legal guardian, Mr Crow, who, in line with the terms in her parents' will, has full control over Charlie, the house she lives in and the funds her parents left behind. Charlie detests Crow, and suspects him of a variety of nefarious activities, such as selling off the family antiques. What she does not realise is that nefarious doesn't even come close to describing Crow's true intentions, and there is a lot more to him than meets the eye.

We very quickly discover that the house in which they live is a little different from your average family home. From the outside is looks almost like any other house, albeit slightly peculiar as it is a big, old thing surrounded by much smaller, more modern houses. To most, it probably doesn't look particularly special on the inside either, but Charlie has always felt that it is a little bit different from other houses. We begin to discover some of these oddities very early on in the book, but only as a lead in to what happens next. Charlie discovers that Crow is in league with an other-worldly being, and whilst attempting to escape from his Shades, Charlie flees through a door and finds herself having to leap into darkness, and lands in another world completely. Bellania, naturally, is a magical land, full of the strange and the fantastic, but it is a land with problems, and it might be down to Charlie to save it.

There are a handful of elements of the plot that we have seen before in other fantasy stories post-Harry Potter, but this isn't a bad thing as Marcus Alexander manages to put enough of his own into them to make them seem nearly-new. The nature of the magic in Bellania felt particularly fresh, and will appeal to the imaginations of young readers. For me though, the most enjoyable part of the book was its villains. Every fantasy story needs a great villain (think The White Witch in the Narnia stories or Voldemort in HP), and in Mr Crow and Lord Bane, Marcus Alexander has created a pair of bad guys that readers will love to hate.

Before I sign off I feel I should also mention the illustrations. Spaced throughout the book are some beautiful black and white manga-style images of a number of the creatures that Charlie encounters during the course of her adventures. These make a great visual addition to the story, although I would love to have seen many more of them.

Keeper of the Realms: Crow's Revenge was published by Puffin back in February,and my thanks go to them for sending me a copy to review. The sequel is scheduled to be published in February 2012.