Snow (How Santa Really Works ) stakes a claim to Roald Dahl territory with his imaginative debut novel, the launch of the Ratbridge Chronicles. Young Arthur, equipped with a flying machine, enters the town of Ratbridge with the aim of stealing some food for himself and his grandfather, who live underground. The boy witnesses a "cheese hunt" (blocks of cheese, in this world, are "nervous beasties, that eat grass by night, in the meadows and woodlands," and easy prey for hunters), an illegal entertainment led by a top-hatted rogue called Snatcher. Arthur finds himself trapped in Ratbridge, where he falls into the caring hands of Willbury Nibble, the Queens' retired lawyer. The kind gent promises to help him locate a tunnel back home but Snatcher has sealed all the entries. Snow uses this hero's return tale to explore his invented world, stuffed to the gills with British oddities, many of which appear in his plentiful cross-hatched pen-and-inks. His eccentric characters include beached pirates who do laundry for a living, underground-dwelling cabbageheads, and the Irregular Police Force, whose members ride bicycles with octagonal wheels ("the policemen could be heard a long way off as they let out little cries of pain at every turn of the wheels"). A larger story involves villainous Snatcher and a machine he has stolen that can shrink and enlarge living creatures. This veritable city-state of a novel is as sprawling as it is silly. Ages 8-14. (Aug.)[Page 158]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-7 Ratbridge is populated by a variety of odd creatures and equally unusual humans. Underlings, including boxtrolls (shy trolls that wear boxes) and cabbageheads (they worship cabbage and wear them tied to their heads), live in tunnels and caves beneath the city. A boy named Arthur emerges from his subterraneous home and discovers an evil plot. The shady members of the Cheese Guild, led by an unpleasant fellow called Snatcher, are kidnapping underlings and plotting to take over the town. Arthur's allies against the Guild include underlings, a man in iron socks, and the pirates and rats who run the Nautical Laundry. There's a great deal of inspired silliness throughout, which may appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. Although the characters are not particularly well developed through words, numerous high-quality, black-and-white illustrations bring Ratbridge and its citizens to life, accentuating the comical tone and helping to pace the tale. The action is clearly played for laughs rather than suspense, as when the heroes repulse an attack on their ship by firing balls of bilge-pump gunk using catapults made of knickers. Some readers might lose interest in the sometimes-rambling series of events, but the short chapters, intriguing creatures, quirky humor, and engaging art make this book a good choice for youngsters who enjoy lengthy and lighthearted fantasy.Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR[Page 130]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.