Review - Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone
Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone
Eleven-year-old twins, Fox and Fibber, have been rivals for as long as they can remember. Only one of them will inherit the family fortune and so a race is afoot to save the dwindling Petty-Squabble empire and win the love of their parents.
But when the twins are whisked off to Jungledrop, a magical Unmapped Kingdom in charge of conjuring our world’s weather, things get wildly out of hand. An evil harpy called Morg is on the loose. And if she finds the long-lost Forever Fern before the twins, both Jungledrop and our world will crumble.
Suddenly, Fox and Fibber find themselves on an incredible adventure in a glow-in-the-dark rainforest full of golden panthers, gobblequick trees and enchanted temples. But, with the fate of two worlds in their hands, will the twins be able to work together for once to defeat Morg and her dark magic?
I am a huge Abi Elphinstone fan, as are most of my family now, so I was incredibly excited when a proof copy of the new Unmapped Chronicle, Jungledrop, unexpectedly dropped onto my door mat yesterday. It was definitely a "drop everything and read it straight away" moment, for you can be late for many things, but you should never keep an Abi book waiting!
So expectations were incredibly high for the brightly foiled green proof. Did it deliver?
Oh, absolutely and positively yes, it delivered.
The Unmapped Chronicles takes a really interesting approach to series-wide storytelling. There's our world, known here as the Faraway, and there are four magical kingdoms, the Unmapped Kingdoms of Rumblestar, Jungledrop, Crackledawn and Silvercrag. There's an ongoing thread running through the books, with Morg the evil harpy taking the powers of the phoenix, a kind of god-like figure responsible for creation and the ongoing magic in the kingdoms. The magical beings in each kingdom use the phoenix magic to create our own weather, here in the Faraway, so without the phoenix everything is going a little haywire, both here and there.
But within that outline, each novel is essentially a standalone adventure, featuring new kingdoms and new characters, as children from our world find various portals to different unmapped kingdoms where they have to become heroes and save the day. The story started in last year's World Book Day book, Everdark, which is essentially a prologue for the whole thing. Then came Rumblestar and now the adventure continues in Jungledrop. It's a fair bet that there'll be two more dealing with the kingdoms of Crackledawn and Silvercrag. There are references and the occasional returning character, but nothing to stop you jumping in to this book with no prior knowledge.
It's a very clever approach that is, so far, working really well. Jungledrop has a different tone, a different feel, to Rumblestar and I like seeing new characters encounter this fantastical land rather than a straight continuation of the earlier arcs. The closest equivalent is possibly the works of CS Lewis, and the Unmapped Chronicles really is Abi's Chronicles of Narnia, destined to become a series of timeless classics.
There are two different things that I think Abi Elphinstone does exceptionally well, and both are very evident in Jungledrop.
The first is incredible, fantastical world building. Jungledrop is a glow in the dark rainforest, stocked with the most amazing creatures and plants. There are herds of Swiftwings, Whitegrumps, Snoozenuts, butterflies with jewelled wings and feather-tailed lizards. It all feels immersive, beautiful and wondrous, with just enough of real-world, sorry I mean Faraway rainforests for us to be able to picture. Then, as we travel through the kingdom things get darker, until the bushes are growing little skulls and the trees turn from grumpy to vicious. It really captures the feel of a beautiful place turning to darkness and evil.
The second is empathy for problematic characters. This is where I feel Jungledrop really excels. In Rumblestar we met Utterly Thankless, who liked to cause mischief and act out, and we got to learn about why she was like that. Jungledrop goes further, with the twins, Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble. These are the main characters, the heroes of our story (and they like being called heroes) and Fox is our POV character for the book. They are also absolutely horrible! They are selfish, manipulative, deceitful, rude, thankless, thoughtless, ambitious and ruthless. I can't think of anything else that I've read that has such fundamentally unlikeable heroes.
And that's where Abi weaves her magic. Like with Utterly, she makes us ask why are they like that? What's happened to them to turn them into such little monsters? And how do they feel about it, inside? What's going on in those little heads of theirs? This was honestly one of my favourite aspects of the book, both in how they're initially presented and the journey they take, emotionally as well as physically, through the story. It's so cleverly done, with such tenderness and love, that I couldn't help but root for the obnoxious little brats.
It wouldn't be an Elphinstone book without a supporting cast of fascinating creatures, and Jungledrop introduces Heckle, the most emotionally intrusive parrot in the unmapped kingdoms. Heckle's habit of repeating what people think rather than what they say fits so well into the story, often forcing the twins to confront uncomfortable truths, and really he's the emotional heart of the story. The Lofty Husks are fantastic, the villains chilling and there are unicycles! My circus-loving son will be thrilled about that.
If anything, I'm so in love with this world that I'll be sorry to move on to the next kingdom, though I'm looking forward eagerly to where this series is going next.
Jungledrop is an absolute masterpiece in fantastical world building and empathetic character building.
It's getting a definite five full moons.
Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone is released on 14th May 2020 by Simon and Schuster. I was sent a proof copy in return for an honest review.