Monday, 16 November 2009
Chosen - Jerry Ibbotson
The blurb on the back includes the quote : "This is what first-class fantasy is all about." Well, I'm not a huge reader of fantasy fiction - the last time was probably when I was a teenager and spent hours sitting with a pen and paper, dice and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Dungeons & Dragons roleplay book ! - so I came to this novel with a totally open mind. I wasn't sure what to expect and the uninspiring black front cover didn't help much.
Right from the start, this book kept reminding me of things I'd read or watched as a child. The central character Alex, disappearing into his daydreams, made me think of Mr Daydream in the Mr Men series (probably because I reread it just last week with the girls !). When he goes through the strange door into a mystical, magical land, I immediately thought of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, or the more recent novel The Poison Garden. Not forgetting Mr Ben - I kept expecting the strange smiling shopkeeper to pop up somewhere ! The story of Samuel the Guardian of Archangel and the loving little girl who looks after him vaguely recalled Beauty and The Beast. And the scenes in the desert where Alex tries to single-handedly stop a war were reminiscent of the TV series Heroes and Superman !
But in spite of the fairy-tale atmosphere and this compendium of throwbacks to childhood literature and TV, it's certainly not a children's book. Alex, despite his superhuman magical qualities, is a perfectly ordinary Joe Bloggs, with an insipid life and career. Most of us can relate to him and empathise with him as the story unfolds. He's an ordinary man experiencing extraordinary things. Or so we - and he - think.
Much in the same way that Terry Pratchett demystified and humanised the Grim Reaper in the character of Mort, in this book we have a far-from-perfect, recognisably "normal" God-figure. Again, the epic good-versus-evil battle reminded me of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but there were some nice, highly original mini-tales within the central framework, such as the Lezard (could be straight out of Jason and the Argonauts !) and the zombified undead reverend wreaking revenge on the parishioners who abandoned him.
There are no huge surprises but it's still an enjoyable read. Although Alex is already a grown-up at the start of the book, I'd call this a coming-of-age story and Alex is a rounded-enough character that we actually are interested in what becomes of him and his adventures as he finds his way. Despite the mystical, magical, monster-filled parallel universe behind the secret door, the story stays firmy tethered to the real world and Alex remains a recognisably normal human being, so even if you are not a huge fan of fantasy fiction, I think you'll still enjoy this, because - wait for a really bad pun ! - you do get the best of both worlds !
star rating : 4/5
Paperback: 307 pages
Publisher: Media Mill; paperback / softback edition (31 Oct 2008)
RRP : £7.99