Monday 23 August 2010

Book review : The Children of the Lost - David Whitley

The Children of the Lost is the second instalment in David Whitley's series of fantasy novels, following on from The Midnight Charter, which I reviewed here. We rediscover Lily and Mark, who now know that they are the Antagonist and the Protagonist of the Midnight Charter and who have been banished from the city of Agora, shut outside of the city walls in lands they had never dreamed existed. They know that they have some mysterious quest to complete before they can even think about returning to their homeland but that is all that they know - they have no idea what they need to do or where they need to go.

They get off to a very inauspicious start. Mark is quietly seething, refusing to speak to Lily for agreeing to them both being banished without consulting him and, above all, just as he had finally rediscovered his long-lost father. He abandons her, hoping to find a way back into the city he loves, but runs to her aid when, deep in the mysterious sinister forest, Lily is attacked by a wolf who in turn is attacked by a strange huntsman. Hmmm, so despite what the Agorans shut inside may think, there is life beyond them city walls then.

The press release that came with my review copy of the book announced that "set in imagined lands, controlled by all-powerful ideals, David Whitley's accomplished novel explores the fascinating utopian-dystopian complex within the worlds of Agora and Giseth". I admit, I wasn't totally sure what that meant ! But it soon becomes clear as the hapless pair's travels lead them to different villages and communities, all based on different concepts that ultimately don't work.

Despite discovering these new lands, the narrative frequently switches back to Agora and the people we know there from the first novel. We follow the destinies of Cherubina, Lily's friends at the Almshouse, Snutworth and the Director, to name but a few. Lily and Mark even learn to tame the all-powerful Nightmare that reigns in the forest beyond Agora (possibly as a result of all those distilled emotions ending up in the sewers and ultimately the river that flows out of the city) and manage to revisit their old homes and friends through their dreams.

As in the first novel, the writing is evocative and highly descriptive and spirits the reader away into the magical worlds described. I do have one big criticism though : the ending, or rather the non-ending. There isn't one. It's just like watching the final episode in a series on TV when just as the all-important information you've been waiting for all season is about to be revealed, the words "to be continued ... " appear at the bottom of the screen so you know that you'll be left hanging on until the next series starts. Having read through the whole book (two books in fact) and followed Lily and Mark's quest to the end, I felt cheated for the book to be left totally hanging at the crucial moment. It seemed overly abrupt and left me feeling cynical about it just being a marketing ploy to force you to buy the next instalment. I have nothing against serialised novels but I do believe that each instalment should work as a self-contained stand-alone novel in its own right so I felt disappointed by this ending.

Having reread my review of The Midnight Charter, I see that I made the same comment at the end of that review too but (and this is why it annoys me !) I can't actually remember now which questions were left unanswered at the end of that first episode. I'm sure I'll read the next instalment when it is released but I know that by then, I will have forgotten the ending of The Children of the Lost and will no longer feel so enthralled and emotionally involved with the characters.

star rating : 3.5/5 (it loses a point for the non-ending !)

RRP : £7.99
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Puffin (5 Aug 2010)
ISBN-10: 0141330120
ISBN-13: 978-0141330129

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1 comment:

  1. This looks like a fascinating read - always on the look out for something new to try so may give it a whirl!


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