When Mr Chen is murdered, Athan Wilde is left to decide whether to fight or fly – but what if you do both?
This is a new type of review as it is not of the physical book but of the audio book. Joe Jameson is the perfect reader for Fleur Hitchcock’s wonderful book all about the adventures of its lead character, Athan Wilde. Actually his reading was so compelling that I found myself walking probably an extra couple of miles to hear what happened next! I always think the key ingredient for a brilliant middle grade novel is that it simply doesn’t stop! Not one empty word or quiet moment, just a constant roller coaster of action and emotions. Fleur has written the kind of book that I am sure youngsters will be reading in the dark by phone light.
So what is it all about. Mr Chen lives across the street from Athan and his family and as Athan says, ‘Nothing about Mr Chen is ordinary!’ An inventor and man of ‘magic’ for want of another word, he and Athan are trying to build a flying machine and they are making good progress when overnight Mr Chen is murdered! What happens next is a phenomenal story of deceit, deception and love. As Athan tries to solve the murder and complete the flying machine, he begins to realise that he is putting his own family and friends in danger. His younger sister Beatty is perceptive and clever and sees right through people and despite her disabilities, she is vital to Athan’s success. There are such moments of cruelty with Beatty too. When her Grandmother and a friend cover her damaged legs with some kind of burning poultice, I was cringing as I listened, like Athan and his older sister Polly, all you want to do is stop Beatty’s pain.
Of course, a story like this needs a delicious villain! And in the form of Colonel Blake we have the perfect villain. Prepared to stop at nothing, he doesn’t care who he kills in order to get what he wants and he’s not averse to blackmail and kidnapping to get what he wants either. But don’t be fooled, there’s more than one nasty villain in this story and they are not always hidden where you think they might be lurking! In fact there are so many obstacles in Athan’s way that at times you think he is going to fail and end up dead himself. But Athan is not alone in his quest to save his family from evil Colonal Blake. His best friend Todd, who he spends most of his time running around on the rooftops with, his sister Polly, and Mary (who seems to have captured his heart) a girl who works for another inventor, all help him on his quest. Hmm, no more just in case I give anything away.
The vivid descriptions of the characters and settings are perfect for audiobook and I had some very realistic images flashing in front of my eyes as listened. Grandma is perfectly encapsulated as the wicked grandma and she constantly seems on the verge of death and delights in taunting Athen, but the smell of her: ‘urine’ and death! I did laugh out loud! Fleur has created a fully formed world that feels almost Dickensian and certainly with the odd flash of violence and blood it doesn’t pull any punches. So, if you don’t have time to read it, I think listening to it is perfect. Particularly as Joe Jameson seems to have the most incredible range of voices!
Who should read this book?
This would be the perfect book for KS2 or early KS3. It’s so much fun and it would appeal to both genders but boys will love this. There’s plenty of activities you could do with this text: creating flying machines, discussing what makes a perfect villain, why reading is important, what makes a family? Absolutely brilliant and would sit well alongside something like extracts from David Copperfield if you wanted to stretch a bright class.