Wow! What a read! It's easy to see why this first novel from Fletcher Moss won the 2013 Times/Chicken House Children's novel competition.
It's a swashbuckling, sewertramping, riverswimming, mudswilling, punchflinging, pistolshooting adventure story. Set at an indeterminate time - but one that recalls aspects of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras - and in the fictional town of Highlions - a sort of smaller, darker London type city - complete with river running through, the book has crime, intrigue and plenty of surprises - as well as a bit of sweet and innocent first love.
And, hurrah, there's not a vampire in sight!
The story is told in a succinct and uncluttered way which gives it the brisk pace that its target readership demands. The plot is essentially a quest - a quest for justice and to solve a mystery. The main character is Dalton Fly who works as a poison boy. His work involves pre-tasting the food of the rich in order to ensure it's safe to be eaten. After his friend and fellow poison boy dies horribly having drunk some poisoned wine, Dalton is on a mission to find the poisoner. The mission is dangerous, shocking and throws up some unexpected truths for Dalton.
The characters are complete originals. Dalton is a wonderful and endearing hero who is both brave and vulnerable. His friends, acquaintances and adversaries are also well-drawn. A few deft brushstrokes and his friends including Sal Sleepwell, Scarlet Dropmore and Luke Eppington are brought instantly to life. You only need to meet them once and you feel you know them. Dalton's enemies are equally vivid. The truly awful Pallis Tench is gruesome, grotesque and great!
We are led through sewers and tunnels, up chimneys and along rivers, lanes and streets. We are steeped in mud, river water and filth. We see the sights, hear the sounds and smell the smells with lifelike clarity.
The imaginative use of language is superb. I especially love the character names and the 'swear' words - all complete inventions. And I suspect readers may well want to adopt 'dreck' and 'kite' as undercover curses.
The novel is aimed at 10 to 14 year-olds and would probably appeal most to the middle of that age range. But I have a feeling it could well be a 'crossover' book - appealing to adults and children alike.
This a stunning debut. I would love to read Dalton Fly's further adventures and really hope there's a sequel planned.
The Poison Boy is published by The Chicken House and is available from bookshops and on Amazon.
Anne Stormont is a writer and teacher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults - mainly of the menopausal and post-menopausal female persuasion - and for children. She blogs at http://annestormont.wordpress.com - where you can find out lots more about her.