The Bandit Queen by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara

“O Bandit Queen!” the bandits cried.
“Little horror! Poison weed!
We’ll give you everything a queen could ever need…”

Just like its sister Hortense and the Shadow, this picture book is a treasure. An orphan girl is stolen by mischievous bandits and made their queen. But faced with the difficult and unavoidable task of growing up, she needs help– help she feels the bandits are too childish to give. Back at school, she soon realises that she misses her family, and they miss her. And the bandits promise once again to give her everything a growing queen could ever need.

“We know you felt mad,
And lonely and sad –
We’re sorry as sorry can be.
But whatever you do
We’ll always love you.
We’ll help you be all you can be.”

This is a gorgeous book about growing up and finding your tribe. The language is rich and full of rhythm and rhyme with a touch of hilarious potty humour. There’s a great contrast between some pages stuffed full of fabulous words and others with only three or four– each making a statement in their own way.

As always, the illustrations and colour palettes are stunning– vibrant and whimsical. This is a picture book aimed at small children but will definitely appeal to older ones as well– it has a ‘grown-up’ picture book feel.

Thank you to Natalia and Lauren for this beautiful copy– yet another success!

Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl

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Storm clouds gather over Lily and Robert’s summer when criminal mastermind the Jack of Diamonds appears. For Jack is searching for the mysterious Moonlocket – but that’s not the only thing he wants.

Suddenly, dark secrets from Robert’s past plunge him into danger. Jack is playing a cruel game that Robert is a part of. Now Lily and Malkin, the mechanical fox, must stay one step ahead before Jack plays his final, deadly card…

Moonlocket is the second book in Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart Adventure series. I interviewed Peter about the first book Cogheart here.

This second instalment is a fast-paced, mystery solving escapade. Set 8 months after the events of Cogheart as London prepares for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, Lily, Robert and Malkin delve into Robert’s long lost past….and it’s not long before they get mixed up with famous escapologist and criminal Jack Door!

This book involves spiritual seances, lock-pickers and a mysterious, moon-shaped locket…With the help of London urchin Tolly, Lily and Robert become detectives. The clues they uncover come together seamlessly and propel the plot forward, building up the tension so well that I had to remind myself to read slowly. It was great to  find out more about how mechanicals work.

Peter’s vivid characterisation of Lily is fantastically done. She’s so nonchalantly confident and determined, and I love how she informs her father and Robert about the intricacies of lock-picking between bites of toast. Peter’s writing is engaging and full of humour:

“Malkin,” Lily whispered, “you’re going to have to create a distraction.”
“What sort of distraction?”
“I don’t know, a distracting one.”

Some of the prose is just breathtaking.

“The moon’s waxy pockmarked face peered through the window, pale and pithy as a piece of fruit, stars sprinkled behind her like spilled sugar.”

One thing I’m looking forward to returning to in the next book is the conflict between Lily and her over-protective father. I didn’t feel that this was completely resolved in Moonlocket, so I’m hoping we’ll see more of how Lily deals with this and being a ‘hybrid’ in book number three!

This is a thrilling novel about proving your worth and the struggle to forgive. Courage and catastrophe come together to create an adventure as intricate as the Cogheart itself.

Five Books for Fans of Philip Pullman

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Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

A steampunk adventure which takes place in an alternate version of Victorian London beneath a sky filled with steam-powered airships, the setting of this novel reminds us of Lyra’s Oxford from the His Dark Materials series. Mechanical people, friends that run on clockwork and a brave, female heroine are all reminiscent of Pullman’s Clockwork. Peter Bunzl shares in Pullman’s talent for creating despicable villains!

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

A tree that thrives on lies and a determined heroine constantly repressed for being young and female. This book reminded me of Lyra Belacqua and her truth-telling alethiometre in her battle against the oppressive and sexist Magisterium. Faith’s thirst for knowledge and passion for natural science recall the academia of Jordan College

The Huntress: Sea by Sarah Driver

Mouse’s icy cold, perilous adventure is similar to the one Lyra embarks on when she journeys North to rescue the children taken by the Gobblers in His Dark Materials. The delicious description of fur cloaks, golden eggs and heavy wooden treasure chests evoke the golden-coloured Tokay wine and the Sky-iron armour used by the Armoured Bears in Pullman’s series.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

This eerie, dreamlike story is rich in mining history and is haunted by the ghosts of children who perished underground. The characters’ fascination with death and those who have left the living world remind us of Lyra’s visit to the world of the dead. Just like Pullman’s writing, this story can be incredibly dark until suddenly the light shines through.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

This is the first in a series that emits the same magic as many of Pullman’s works and follows the main characters as they travel between different worlds. The innocent love story between Meggie and Farid and the eventual, subtle hints at a sexual awakening are similar to the relationship shared by Lyra and Will.