The Book Ark by Janis Pegrum Smith

Cover of The Book Ark by Janis Pegrum Smith

The cover of the first edition

I was lucky enough to be offered a free review copy of this book by the author, whom I know online via the Historical Novel Society, for which I review indie books. When I read on the back cover a recommendation by the highly regarded historical novelist Helen Hollick (also a friend of mine), I knew I was in for a good read.

Just how exciting an adventure lay inside was masked by the monochrome, enigmatic cover, which made me think of a religious tract that I bought years ago during a teenage meaning-of-life-seeking phase, and not of an action-packed, highly imaginative fantasy novel. I’m sure a more colourful cover, giving more of a clue to the content, would help earn this book the greater attention that it surely deserves.

Second cover of The Book Ark

Cover of the second edition

The second edition has a different cover, but I still don’t think it does justice to the story. Anyway, on to the more important part: the compelling adventure beyond the covers.

A Boy in Search of his Grandfather

In a slightly dystopian version of the modern world, a 19 year old boy, Josh, is treated like a servant by his mother in a matriarchal, high tech society. A technophobe, Josh has only ever known any pleasure and affection in his life when staying with his grandfather one summer, years before, on The Book Ark, a narrowboat full of books. What a delightful notion!

Sent by his mother to declare his missing grandfather dead, Josh begins a fascinating adventure that leads to The Book Ark, now abandoned by his grandfather, for whom his search now begins.  Without spoiling the plot, I’d just like to mention that he soon encounters an alluring parallel universe world in which fiction books are real, and where their authors gain immortality, and where librarians hold supreme power. The methods of entering and exiting this world, involving library date stamps and appropriate books, will fill any librarian with delight. I also loved the code words for danger: “long overdue”.

A Heroic Quest

When the new world is under threat from malevolent forces, Josh is engaged to redeem them, and an action-packed adventure involving favourite characters from fiction soon unrolls. The book closes with an overture to a sequel, which I can’t wait to read. May there be many more such adventures!

Celebrating Books and Reading

It’s a wildly imaginative story,  celebrating not only the close relationship of Josh and his grandfater, but also the joy of books and reading. Clearly that’s bound to score a hit with bookaholics like me, but it’s equally be a great way to spread the love of reading to those who aren’t already hooked. It would make a great film.

Suggested Tweaks

While it’s billed as being suitable for 9 to 90, I can’t help thinking that it would have wider appeal if the age of Josh, the hero, was adjusted to lure in a younger audience. Older readers would surely follow, as happened with the Harry Potter books. My daughter is 12, and when I told her about the book, she loved the idea of it, until I mentioned the hero is 19. No child will easily relate to an adult hero or heroine – and if you’re 12, 19  counts as grown up and positively alien.

I would also like to see a much more colourful cover, showing The Book Ark itself, and young Josh and his dog, who accompanies him into the parallel universe, with perhaps a hint at the fantasy land in the background or in the skies above.

Bound to be Loved by Librarians and Authors

With those two changes, I think the book might fly off the shelves – and especially off library shelves, for what librarian could resist a book that lionises their profession? I’m already making a list of librarian friends to whom I’ll be recommending it, as well as to anyone who loves reading or writing books.

For More Information

Janis Pegrum Smith headshot

Janis Pegrum Smith

For more information about Janis Pegrum Smith, visit her website or follow her on Twitter at @JPegrumSmith.

Helen hollickI also recommend reading Helen Hollick’s interview with Janis on her own blog, in which they chat about the concepts in the book, and in detail about plans for future books in the series. Book 2 includes a guest appearance by the hero of Helen’s pirate adventure series, Jesemiah Acorne. Click here to read it.


4 thoughts on “The Book Ark by Janis Pegrum Smith

  1. Dear Debbie,

    Thank you so much for your very kind and lovely review of The Book Ark: Black on White, I am glad you enjoyed it so much. The sequel, The Book Ark II: Children of the Universe, is now out; it was published just before Christmas and feedback from early readers is already unanimous that the sequel is even better. With regard to your suggested ‘tweaks’, it was very kind of you to make these suggestions; the 9 to 90 claim is actually completely accurate and not generic – as we have had a 9-year-old who read it and loved it, and a 90-year-old… regrettably neither left Amazon reviews. The Book Ark is collecting a sizable Young Adult following, which is the market it was originally written for, the feedback from 11 to 15-year-olds has been extremely positive, and not once has anyone mentioned Josh’s age being an issue. He was always intended to be a role model rather than a peer, and then there is the character of Little Josh, who represents the 8-year-old Josh. I could go on to quote a list of books enjoyed by children where the protagonist is older, but the list would be too long. Also, from a plot point of view it would have been impossible to make Josh much younger. Interestingly, the broad range of diverse characters has meant that readers seem to identify with their own favourite. Although many have been waiting to find out what happens to Josh, I have had people say they are waiting to find out what happens to Grandad, or Oriole… and even Zelda in one case!

    With regard the cover, I think covers are always a matter of personal taste. Some still like the original cover, and voiced protest when I changed it, some like the new one. Although I can see your point of view on the cover, I was aiming to project the darker, more mysterious element of the story. As a true indie, everything from story to finished product is done in-house including the cover, as I do not have the budget to employ a professional cover designer. The cover of the second book features a shot taken from the Hubble telescope, and I have already had non-readers tell me it is an image that makes them want to read the book. I agree that with a professional cover and marketing behind it, The Book Ark could be – as some have said – as big as Harry Potter, all we need to do is find and agent or publisher who feels the same. Thank you again for your wonderful review, and I hope you enjoy the sequel.


  2. What an interesting plot! I love all stories that encourage people to read more… And fantasy is my favorite genre (alongside historical fiction).

    Still, I agree with Debbie’s comments on the cover… The cover should say “fantasy!” so that it catches the eye of the intended target group. If the book cover is on a thumbnail size among dozens of others on your computer / table / phone, it has to get that attention in a second. The cover is the very thing that makes a reader want to have a closer look at your story. The black and white cover is elegant, but not fantasy. And the colored version looks nice, but doesn’t quite tell it is a fantasy book. You might lose a lot of new readers when during that second they look at your cover in a store they have no idea it is a fantasy book. Good to hear you have a following who know your name and are looking forward to reading your book.

    I certainly got interested in reading this story now that I read about it here – the plot certainly stands out from the crowd. Congratulations on that!


    • Hi Leenasbooks,

      Thank you for your lovely post about The Book Ark, and you will be pleased to know that I have decided to look at revising the book cover, following the very helpful feedback from Debbie and yourself. I do hope you enjoy The Book Ark, and there is the sequel ‘Children of the Universe’ if you do. The third in the series ‘Enemies of the Book’ will be out towards to end of next year – all going well. Also, you might like to know that I write historical fiction too, and will have a new historical series coming out in 2016. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to leave a comment, I greatly appreciate your thoughts – J

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s