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I've just been reading Alex McCarthy's debut novel, The Secret of the Amulet, with 9-year-old Sophie. It's an exciting fantasy novel which is targetted at 8-12 year olds but Sophie found it a bit heavy-going in terms of length so I ended up finishing it off by myself ! I will go back to reading the rest of it to her in instalments because she's been enjoying it, but the bedtime reading was going at too slow a pace for me so I stayed up after lights out time (mine as well as Sophie's !) to finish it off last night.
The Secret of the Amulet follows the adventures of fourteen-year-old Noel who is sent to live with his mysterious and slightly menacing uncle when his mother dies. He discovers strange objects, reputed to belong to the mythical beings The Seven, worrying secrets and a strange magical amulet with an enigmatic note from his mother, so he decides to run away to try to find its owner in the mountains (and escape from his uncle), accompanied by his cousin Cassie. On their quest, the pair encounter many mystical creatures, including gnomes, goblins, wolves, elves and the terrifying Thudmarks. They discover strange and sometimes dangerous places like the walled city of Talibar and the network of caves in the moutains.
The book is at times slightly scary for young readers - people are poisoned and killed, fed to the horrible Thudmarks or have their blood sucked by the vampiric Guardians - but Sophie said it was just like watching Merlin or Doctor Who on TV - "yes, there were nasty monsters but you always knew it was just a story so it was exciting more than really scary". I had actually thought myself that it had undertones of Merlin, as well as Harry Potter. It also brought to mind another teen fantasy series I read earlier in the year - David Whitley's The Midnight Charter and The Children of the Lost.
Much has been made of the fact that Alex was inspired by the indigenous people of the Amazon Rainforest when writing the novel. The elves' community and their use of plants in natural medicine does indeed evoke this lifestyle but it is far from the most important element of the book. You'll read this book because it's an exciting quest adventure, filled with magical creatures and thrilling exploits in a dangerous world ruled by tyrannic and evil Guardians - not because you want to learn about the rainforests !
The Secret of the Amulet is the first part of a trilogy so I was slightly disappointed if not surprised by the "to be continued"-type ending. Next year, the second in the trilogy, entitled The Gifts of the Seven, will be published, where the readers will discover the only way a Guardian can be killed. The final book in the trilogy will reveal the truth about the faeries’ hatred of science. I'll definitely be picking up a copy to discover what happens next.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £8.99
Paperback 271 pages
Publisher: Oakdene Publishing Ltd (15 Oct 2010)
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