Jack the Viking and more reviews

One of my personal fun tasks is to write reviews for Talespinner the Children’s Literature Journal for Christchurch College of Education. I have read four new NZ books lately and I thought they would all be a great books to buy as Xmas presents. They are as follows:
Jack the Viking by Melinda Szymanik
Jack is in big trouble. Things are going very badly at home: Dad is sick, his Mum is worried sick, he’s letting down the swimming team with his poor performance, and as if that isn’t bad enough, he’s being bullied by some nasty boys. Like all of us he wishes he was a super hero who could make all his problems go away. And he gets his wish – or at least a version of it – only to discover being a warrior isn’t all he thought it might be.

Suddenly, he is a thousand years in the past and trying to persuade the people around him he really is a Viking and not an enemy spy. He manages to persuade them he has lost his way from a foreign land, but draws the line at trying to explain 21st century New Zealand! Luckily, he is taken in by a friendly family and he just beginning to enjoy himself and learn some hunting techniques when the village is attacked and he finds himself on the run with other young survivors of the massacre. They are the only hope for the rescue of Stig’s step-mother and sister who are being held captive. So, the young warriors must travel four days by sea to Bergen to get support from the ruling lords and Stig’s uncle.

At first, the persona of Jack seemed a little forced and more like a female character, but once the action starts the story is very entertaining and all young lovers of adventure and fantasy will find it a great read. Even more exciting is the open ending and readers will have to wait until 2009 to read Magnetic North and find out if Karin and Krista are rescued … This book would be most suitable for confident readers from the age of 7 or 8, and would be equally enjoyed by boys and girls as there are interesting characters of both genders in the story.

Melinda has a great website and blog.

Chronicles of Stone: Set in Stone by Vincent Ford
This is the second book in a trilogy, but your enjoyment of it is not adversely affected if you haven’t read the first. The plot of Scorched Bone is summarised smoothly in the first chapter so the reader is free to follow the exciting adventures of the twins, Trei and Souk as they infiltrate the camp of the feared Northmen in a determined effort to learn their weapon making secrets. Continue reading

What it means to be a Superhero

Like most boys I dreamt at one time of being faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than an ox and of course being invisible. However, the real consequences and disadvantages of being a freak never entered my mind-a bit like being a celebrity I imagine; unable to have anything like a normal life.

Sadly, this lack of foresight plagues most of the graphic novels I come across. Invariably stories get submerged into a messy stew of bulging muscles, revealing costumes with implausible and confusing plots. There’s no sense of three-dimension.  I usually dismiss them as American Trash.

A few writers mercifully progress beyond this adolescent form of writing. Colleagues have already praised the superlative Watchmen a novel that can withstand re-reading after re-reading. Alan Moore has also continued his wider analysis of the trials and tribulations of being gifted in Top 10, a police precinct staffed by superheroes than spans several universes. (Think Hill Street Blues with latex.)

Tony Hickman is another who prefers motivation and introspection to random, violent action. In Common Grounds heroes and villains meet in the neutral setting of a chain of cafes, to chew the fat and muse about life’s ironies. Perry Moore’s novel Hero depicts a gay teenager anxious to prove himself both to the world and to his own disgraced father and Kurt Busiek’s Astrocity has these paranormal figures restricted to a what amounts to an American ghetto. Busiek actually spends time contemplating what it must be like for ordinary citizens having to endure the clashes of immortal beings, whilst trying to go about their everyday lives. All the above also have a sense of humour, often missing from the average Marvel or D.C. publication

My most recent foray into this sub-genre is Soon I will be Invincible. Austin Grossman has produced a novel that is sad, hilarious and gripping. He uses a system of getting two characters to relate the plot via alternate chapters. One is a female cyborg keen to fit in with the Champions, whose ignorance of her human origins causes her pain and resentment. The other is the anti-hero Doctor Impossible who, despite wanting to yet again take over the world and reduce Mankind to servitude, comes over as the most attractive and sympathetic male character.

All the cliches are here: the implausibly large secret hideaway, the relentless cycle of capture and escape, the secret powers (plus the ludicrous explanations of how each acquired their strengths), the quips and punch-ups. However, Grossman produces something wonderful- a superhero novel that is funny, witty, melancholic and an absorbing read.