Knights of the Borrowed Dark – and a protagonist with a difference – by Dave Rudden

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Yes, I know. I’m quite late in reviewing this, and I bet I’m the last person to do so. But I’m nothing if not honest and I’m writing a post about this book as part of my promotion of superb MG books that are not by David Walliams. It was only a matter of (not much) time before I started waving this one tantalisingly in front of my class with the promise that it was dark – dark enough that I (loudly) considered not letting them have it.
That worked.
However, you can recommend a book to kids, but unless that book is earth-shatteringly good, those kids will never listen to you again, and then you’re are trapped in teacher/librarian/bookseller purgatory. Thankfully my soul is safe. And after using a passage from this book as the subject of a creative writing lesson on writing action scenes, it looks like I’m going to have to get a couple more copies for the classroom (because they’re not getting my signed copy).
I loved this book because of the nature of the evil in the story. The Tenebrous exist in an in between place between this world and another using shadows to bridge the gap, in order to feed off the misery of humans (especially kids of course), and generally wreak havoc. I love them because they are undeniably scary. Rudden captures what he calls “a fundamental wrongness” to the way they look and move which is hard to pin down and yet deeply unnerving. More effective still is that fact that they are properly, mass-destructive and lethally dangerous. There’s no daring-do hero leaping between the clichéd hap-hazard blows of some blundering monster. These things take no prisoners – except when they do, then it’s a building full of orphans whom they gleefully torment and suck the life from. Aside from that, there’s this feeling that a character is alway seconds from dismemberment throughout the book. Even the adult mentor figures, the Knights that stand between blissfully ignorant people and violent annhialation, however skilled, are often absolutely terrified.
Which brings me to the main character, Denizen. He’s not quite your typical orphan, plucked from monotony to learn about a noble heritage and a grand heroic destiny, which he accepts bravely and graciously. He’s suspicious, sceptical, and spends most of the start of the book being pants-wettingly scared. His sass would give Harry Potter a run for his money. He is righteously angry and resentful upon learning the reasons why he was abandoned to spend his childhood in an orphanage, and expresses this in explosive magical thirteen-year-old style. In other words, he’s a real boy!unknown-1                                             Comment if, like me, you read that in his voice.

Another thing I really, deeply appreciated the concept of power involving a sacrifice, a negative and irreversible side-effect. Gone are the days when readers of any age will buy into the idea of someone just getting away with having awesome powers, especially if they’re the good guys. The effects of “the cost” in KOTBD makes me cringe every time one of the Knights uses their power. The nature of the sacrifice these characters make renders them irresistibly lovable – even the Malleus herself, who makes Judi Dench look like a kitten.

Lastly, and most importantly for me anyway, the quality of the writing is something that you don’t see that often in modern MG anymore. It makes deeply descriptive but smooth reading, effortlessly conveying darkness, danger, humour and tragedy within the confines of an age category some would mistakenly call restrictive. This is my favourite book of 2016, and the UNESCO City of Literature’s pick for Dublin for 2017.

In other words, if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?

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I’m Back!

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In proper Inkies fashion, I decided to return to this blog as my New Year’s resolution – in February. Well, better late than never, said no publisher ever, which is why I’m blogging and not yet published.

Well, it’s been nearly two years! How did that happen? How did I get so rubbish at getting stuff done? The truth is, I didn’t. None of us did. Life got in the way and there was a tonne of other stuff to that needed doing. It was one of those years where one has to grab the mane of that mad pony (which was my life) and cling on until it stopped, lest you be trampled underfoot. The shaggy cur got me to the point where I am now secure in a career that I enjoy, but in such a whirlwind that it left next to no time for writing, blogging or even (gasp) reading.

Said mad pony also brought me to the foot of the Andes and made me climb to Machu Picchu (in fairness to him, it is not a pony-friendly path – plenty of goats though) as well as on a number of other wild adventures (that include being stranded on an island and in a desert, as well as riding Aragorn’s horse! Please don’t be jealous, mad pony. Don’t hurt me.) While I am  extremely glad that I held on, it’s an incredible relief to finally set my feet down and remember my first and sadly neglected love; books.

So here we are.

 

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   It can taste your fear.

   So where was I? Yes! Books. The new career thing is great, because I’m working with kids of the age I want to write for. We read the same books. Hell, I think I even share a reading age with some of them. I use big words to make it at least seem as though I’m a couple of steps ahead, which, being almost seventeen years their senior, makes it kind of upsetting when they correct my pronunciation on words that I’ve never heard aloud because I picked them up in books.

Brats.

   I love my brats though. Duty of care aside, it’s hard not to gather a sense of fondness for people you share a space with for six hours a day over one hundred and eighty-three days. Working with them is giving me plenty of excuses to return to my favourite books, all of which belong to the middle grade category, which means I can share my favourites with me class, and they can share their favourites with me.

   But, the gods of learning forgive me, there is an awful lot of David Walliams this year. I mean, an awful lot.

   And maybe my teachers and family felt the same way when I became obsessed with Harry Potter (and never grew out of it) because when finished the books, I picked up the Philosopher’s Stone, and read them all, again and again and again. I wanted to wipe my memory each time, and experience that first reading each time. It took me a while, and the help of one incredible librarian (who, now that I think about it, made me read Harry Potter in the first place) to challenge my bereft reader’s soul and put me in the direction of Ursula le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett and (what were you thinking? I was  twelve!) Bram Stoker.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy David Walliams. I can’t not love him for what he’s done for children’s reading. The problem, which I think is exacerbated by the Irish media (seriously Ryan Tubridy?) is that there is so much out there that kids aren’t aware of, unless they physically walk into a bookshop and talk to a bookseller. Luckily, the children’s bookselling world has risen to the task of diluting the David Walliams frenzy with, you know, other really excellent MG books, that are just as good, or indeed better. That’s a band wagon I want on. It’s not being pulled by ponies so I feel rather safe in declaring myself returned to the world of Children’s books, with an intention to review and promote middle grade across all genres, but especially in fantasy, because that’s where my heart is.

   In my absence, a hoard of incredible authors have emerged, and familiar favourites are setting the bar so incredibly high for this age group. I no longer feel guilt about steeping myself in this sector – among all the beautiful books – I can’t breathe!anigif_sub-buzz-19880-1466793045-16

Despite being really creepy – I know how Mouldy Voldy feels right now.

Ok, so I’ve bored everybody enough with my excuses – I’m the best excuse-maker ever though, right? I mean, Machu Picchu! Machu-freaking-Pich …

Ok. Books.

I’m gathering some reading momentum, and with the help of the lovely Lisas, I’ve come across some absolute gems, and these will be the subjects of the next several posts. So here is my overview of what I will be reviewing in the next couple of weeks.

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And I know these are all big players – but with very good reason. I will be very open to suggestions, recommendations (and post 😉 from now on, and have every intention of sourcing out some hidden gems as I trawl the bookstores –  or more likely, the booksellers brains.

Thank you for listening to my excuses. Be kind in you responses, Mad Pony is watching.
Mara xxx

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