Tuesday 30 July 2013

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Oliver grew up in a family of explorers - but his biggest adventure is about to begin!

Along with his new friends, a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid and a friendly island called Cliff, Oliver goes off in search of his missing parents. But before he can put his rescue plan into action there's the evil Stacey de Lacey and an army of greasy, green sea monkeys to contend with . . . 

Oliver Crisp's life differs from that of the majority of kids of his age in that instead of living in a house and attending school, he has accompanied his explorer parents on their adventures around the world. However, Mr and Mrs Crisp have come to the conclusion that they have been everywhere and seen everything and there simply isn't anywhere left to explore and so with heavy hearts they set off back to their house in Deepwater Bay, a house that they have hardly ever lived in. Oliver, on the other hand, is more excited than he has been for a long time - he longs to live a normal life, in a proper family house, and attend a proper school.

However, as their ramshackle house comes into view the trio are surprised to find that Deepwater Bay has gained a number of islands during their absence, and naturally the Crisp parents just have to head out in their little dinghy to explore them. When some time goes past and they haven't returned Oliver ventures out to discover that all but one of the islands have disappeared, along with his parents, and so begins a thrilling and hilarious search and rescue mission that sees Oliver meeting islands that travel, a mermaid in desperate need of an optician, a talking albatross, sea monkeys and a particularly mean villain called Stacey de Lacey.

This is one of the most enjoyable and charming books that I have read so far this year, and it shows just how talented and versatile a writer Philip Reeve is. Reading Oliver and the Seawigs it is hard to believe that this is the product of the same imagination that brought us the brilliant Mortal Engines series with its roaming, cannibalistic cities, although on reflection I guess the concept of islands that travel isn't a million miles away from this. It really is a shame that YA books tend to hog so much of the book review spotlight, as Oliver and the Seawigs is the perfect book for 7+ aged readers deserves to be acclaimed about by newspaper critics and book bloggers alike. 

Reeve's storytelling is intelligent and witty, with clever word play, crazy happenings and a sense that you can never really guess what is going to happen next. However, his contribution is only 50% of what makes this book as magical as it is, with the other half of magic being provided by the super talented illustrator, Sarah McIntyre. Sarah's quirky and zany illustrations complement Reeve's words so perfectly. They are like cream to Reeve's strawberries. The Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire. The Cannon to his Ball... I think you get my drift :-)

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the launch of Oliver and the Seawigs last week (on the Golden Hinde, I kid you not), and it was wonderful to finally get to meet Philip as I have been a fan of his ever since I first read Mortal Engines. I have known for some time thanks to the magic of the interweb that Philip and Sarah have developed a close friendship, and at the Seawigs launch party it was very evident that their personalities are as perfectly matched as Sarah’s illustrations are to Philip’s words. Given that there is at least one more Seawigs style book planned (and hopefully many more after that) I would not be surprised if in years to come people will talk about the McIntyre/Reeve partnership in the same way that they talk about the Dahl/Blake pairing, and the two will become inextricably linked.

This book is perfect for young readers, and just as perfect for parents to read to even younger children as a bedtime story. It is the kind of book that I will be buying as presents for as many children as I can, especially as OUP have produced such a gorgeous looking hardcover edition. It is also the kind of book that I expect to become many future adult's fondly remembered childhood read, with well-read and much-loved copies sitting on bookshelves in homes for many years to come.

My thanks go to Liz Scott and the lovely people at OUP for sending me a copy of Oliver and the Seawigs, and for inviting me to the fab launch party last week. Oliver and the Seawigs will be available to buy in September.

Philip and Sarah at the launch party, Sarah wearing her truly amazing seawig

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