There May Be A Castle by Piers Torday

The Blurb On The Back:

Like I said, kid, it’s your story.  Are you ready?

On a frozen Christmas Eve, Mouse Mallory and his family set off across a snow-white valley to visit his grandparents.

They never arrive. 

As the wheels skid off the icy road, Mouse is thrown from the car.  When he wakes, he finds himself in a magical landscape, with only a talkative sheep and a very bossy horse for company.

And they tell him: this is your story now.

So begins Mouse’s extraordinary quest through a world of wonder.  A world of monsters, minstrels, dangerous knights and mysterious wizards; a world of terrifying danger but also more excitement than Mouse has ever known.

All to find a castle, somewhere, beyond.

But why is Mouse looking for a castle?  As thoughts of his family back at the car begin to surface, Mouse realises this might be the most important journey he will ever make … 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

11-year-old Albert Thomas Mallory is only a little boy both literally (he’s the shortest child in his year at school) and figuratively (he takes his toy horse, Nonky, everywhere with him and always acts like he’s little – preferring books with pictures to those with words).  That’s why everyone calls him Mouse.

Mouse lives in Yorkshire with his mum, 12 and a half year-old sister Violet and his toddler sister Esme.  His dad ran off to Florida with a software developer called Carla who he met on-line.  It’s Christmas Eve and his mum is driving the four of them over to her parents’ house across the Moors.  But the weather is terrible with the snow falling heavily and their car slides off the road, throwing Mouse through the windscreen.

When he wakes up, he finds himself in a strange land with only a sheep called Baa and Nonky, who’s now a full-grown horse with a bit of a snarky attitude.  Transformed into a knight, he’s on a quest to find a castle but he can’t remember where and he can’t remember why.  All he knows is that there’s a mysterious dark, clanking figure chasing him and the names of some people he thinks are important to him.  But this is his story now – and it’s more frightening and wonderful and dangerous than he could have ever imagined …

Piers Torday’s novel for children aged 9 – 11 is a well-written, painfully bittersweet affair that mixes a contemporary tale of a boy who likes daydreaming and doesn’t see why everyone’s keen for him to get bigger with a magical realist adventure populated by sharply drawn characters with an entertainingly modern world view and great illustrations by Rob Biddulph.

Mouse is a great character – frightened and overwhelmed but determined to do his best and I think a lot of children will relate to the pressure he feels to put away the little boy things that he likes and instead become more “mature”.  I enjoyed his relationship with the forthright Violet (whose scenes in the car are as good as Mouse’s and I love the fact that she wants to be a pirate queen) but the star for me is Nunky, the Instagram using toy horse with a fine line in sarcasm and no problem with saying ‘I told you so’  The antagonist pursuing them is also well drawn – working on a metaphorical and physical level – a scene where it creates its own creatures is genuinely chilling.

Torday gets the mix of humour, adventure and sadness exactly right but at no point does he pull his punches and parents with more sensitive children might want to keep an eye on them when reading this book for reasons that I won’t spoil other than to say that I thought that the sad themes are outweighed by the more uplifting end message that life does go on and people do endure.  Ultimately I think that this is a modern children’s classic and one that most children will ultimately enjoy.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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