Publisher: The Chicken House
Published in: 2003
Age Range: Pre Teens
Setting: Costa Rica / Parallel World
- Felix is a 13-year-old with a heart condition which leaves him little time to live. When he accidentally crosses The Divide, he has to use his ingenuity and the little science he possesses to solve that world's problems and bring himself back to this.
- Bretony is a Tangle Child (elf) whose parents have accidentally petrified themselves for twenty years. She befriends Felix and tries to help him find his way back to his world.
- Snakeweed is a Japegrin (Goblin) who uses all sorts of dirty tricks to help his company Global Panacaeas sell quack remedies and control discoveries made by Tangle People (Elves) and Ragamuckies (Brownies).
- Ironclaw is a Brazzle (Gryphon). Like all Brazzles he's an academic, in this case a mathematician, and he agrees to help find a way to get Felix back to his world.
Accidentally crossing The Divide, Felix finds himself in a world where humans and science are myth and mythical creatures and magic are real, although with different names. Befriended by Bretony, he finds himself helping her and her brother and sister put an end to the schemes of the Japegrin Snakeweed and his vicious killer Sinistroms (Devil-hyenas).
On the way, they are helped by Brittlehorns (unicorns), Brazzles (gryphons), a flame-bird (phoenix) and a Shreddermouth (crocodile), among others, and hindered by Worrits (comical dogs which make you die laughing) and the evil Sinistroms.
General: Although the principal characters are thirteen, the book mostly operates at an easy-to-grasp literary level which shouldn't tax younger readers. While a certain amount of the thought processes portrayed require a certain maturity to understand completely, it's easy to boo and hiss the baddies and cheer the goodies on most of the time.
While the premise — an alternative world where humans are myth — is hardly original (see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for example), the author adds a certain freshness to the idea. For one thing, while the society there is based on magic rather than on science, it has structures which clearly mimic our own (conference centres, greedy pharmaceutical companies and so on). Also, not all the mythical creatures have parallels in our world. The Sinistroms are described as devil hyenas and the Lickits are elvish cookery experts. My favourites, though — and these are quite frightening — are the Worrits: these look like rather comical dogs and their weapon is, in fact, to make you laugh so much that you die!
Violence: While most of the book is easy-going children's stuff, the Sinistroms are really quite nasty. One of them tortures a Ragamuckie to reveal information about some other people, and then leaves her to die. Another leaves poisoned oatcakes out for two unicorns who then die from eating them. When possible, they make sadistic comments and exist to injure and kill.
Life & Death: All through the book, Felix is searching for a cure for his heart condition which he knows will leave only a short time to live. Little by little, Bretony comes to appreciate what this means to Felix. The explanation given for Felix's transfer across The Divide is that he died just as he stood exactly balanced on either side, and was revived exactly after he'd crossed over.
“I've got to get back to my own world,” said Felix. “My parents will be worried sick.”
“I disappear al the time,” said Betony. “No one even notices.”
“Well, my parents will,” said Felix.
“We use my parents as boot-scrapers these days,” said Betony. “I live with my brother and sister.”
Felix thought he must have misheard. “Boot-scrapers?”
Betony explained about her parents being turned to stone as though that sort of thing happened all the time, and said how useful they'd been as an anchor for the bottom end of the rope ladder. The she said, “I've got no idea how you got here, let alone how to get you back. We could ask the brittlehorns. They're very wise. I've seen some hoof-prints so they can't be far away.”
“Brittlehorns,” said Felix thoughtfully. “Do they have a single horn in the middle of their foreheads by and chance?”
“Yeah,” said Betony. “Do you have them in your world as well, then?”
Felix shook his head. “I think you mean a unicorn,” he said. It's a mythical beast, the same as you are.“ He grinned. ”And yes, I'd love to meet one.“
Friday 9th January 2004