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.
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.
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
I 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.