Review - Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone
Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone
Eleven-year-old Casper Tock hates risks, is allergic to adventures and shudders at the thought of unpredictable events. So, it comes as a nasty shock to him when he accidentally stumbles into Rumblestar, an Unmapped Kingdom full of magical beasts.
All Casper wants is to find a way home, but Rumblestar is in trouble. An evil harpy called Morg is sending her followers, the Midnights, into the kingdom to wreak havoc and pave the way for her to steal the Unmapped magic for herself. But Casper cannot turn a blind eye because the future of his own world, he discovers, is bound up with that of the Unmapped Kingdoms.
And so, together with Utterly Thankless, a girl who hates rules and is allergic to behaving, and her miniature dragon, Arlo, Casper embarks upon an adventure full of cloud giants, storm ogres and drizzle hags. Can he, Utterly and Arlo, the unlikeliest of heroes, save the Unmapped Kingdoms and our world from the clutches of Morg and her Midnights?
First of all, I adore Abi's writing. Sky Song is one of my absolute favourite books. Moll and Griff from the Dreamsnatcher books are two of my all time favourite characters. Rumblestar has a lot to live up to!
But does it deliver? Yes, it really does.
Rumblestar is the start of something new, the Unmapped Chronicles, and it feels very different to Abi's earlier books (except Everdark, but more on that later.) The Dreamsnatcher stories felt like they were set in our world, ranging between the Cornish coastline and the Scottish Highlands, albeit with considerably more magic than we have these days. Sky Song was set in a magical Arctic circle, which still felt like an interpretation of our real world. Rumblestar starts off with Casper in our world, the Faraway, and then he crosses over into the Unmapped Kingdoms, a world filled with magic and marvels that feels very different to anything we've seen from Abi before. There are touches of Narnia to parts of it, something that is recognised in a couple of references to the works of CS Lewis, though is most assuredly is its own world.
The Unmapped Chronicles started with Everdark, a small book produced for World Book Day. Everdark is set in one of the Unmapped Kingdoms, Crackledawn. Something has gone badly wrong with the magic in the world, and the only people who can stop it is a young girl called Smudge (underage and under-intelligenced) and her monkey companion, Bartholomew. It is a wonderful adventure, that throws the reader headlong into this brilliantly magical world.
Rumblestar picks up the story some years later, in a different kingdom entirely. The consequences of what happens in Everdark are definitely being felt, though the cast of characters is new, as are all of the settings and magical beings. I believe this is how the chronicles are going to work as a whole, with each book picking up a different part of a whole narrative in a different setting, rather than as a traditional series where one group of characters moves through the different stories.
I love the setting. The castle in the clouds feels so magical and wondrous, and then we're taken on a tour of the kingdom to very different places filled with fascinating creatures, but all tied together by the central theme of weather. It feels like a land that really works, not one that has been thrown together haphazardly
The characters are fascinating. Casper has quite a few problems. He's lonely, he's being bullied. He lives his whole life around to-do lists and schedules and is totally risk averse. Possibly not the ideal candidate for an Abi Elphinstone adventure? Well, certainly not at the start of the book. He's also black, something that's mentioned in passing early in the book and not really referenced again. It's nice to see more diversity creeping into books where it's not a big deal, just a minor aspect of his appearance.
And then there's Utterly Thankless, possessor of one of the greatest names in literature. Utterly causes trouble, she misbehaves, she refuses to follow the rules and never does well in class. In many ways she's the exact opposite of Casper. But Utterly isn't just naughty for the sake of it. She's hurting inside, and the reasons for this and the emotional journey she takes are totally wonderful and give a brilliant perspective on children who are "acting out".
The plot is, of course, brilliant. Nobody writes adventures like Abi does, and it sparkles and shines. There are dark, creepy bits and amazing landscapes and bizarre and fantastic items along the way. It's very well paced too, with the occasional break in safe places between death-defying escapades, to catch your breath.
This book is funny too, funnier than anything Abi has written before. A lot of it is in the naming of characters, but for all of the darkness and failing magic, the Unmapped Kingdoms are a fun place and this really comes across.
Rumblestar is a fantastic, magical, beautiful and funny adventure, and the Unmapped Chronicles feel like they're going to be something very special indeed.
It definitely gets five moons.
I was sent a proof copy of Rumblestar in return for an honest review. It is out on 30th May 2019 from Simon and Schuster. Everdark is available now.