The Land Of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

The Blurb On The Back:

I see a cluster of jelly-shaped islands, a castle rising out of the sea, and three dragons soaring through the sky.  And written along the top of the map in my spiky handwriting is one word: 

ROAR

When twins Arthur and Rose were little they were heroes in the Land of Roar, the imaginary world they created.  Roar was filled with the things they loved – dragons, mermaids, ninja wizards and moonlight stallions – as well as the things that scared them the most.

Now the twins are eleven, Roar is almost forgotten.  But when strange things start happening, Arthur begins to wonder if maybe, just maybe …

ROAR IS REAL

You can order The Land Of Roar by Jenny McLachlan from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

When 11-year-old twins Arthur and Rose Trout were little they created a game set in the imaginary world of Roar, where they would play with the wizard ninja, Winja, a moonlight stallion called Stallion, three dragons called Vlad, Pickle and Bad Dragon, and a mermaid witch called Mitch.  But 4 years ago, they stopped and both have almost forgotten Roar as they focused on other things – like getting ready to start at senior school after the holidays – and their relationship is strained as Rose wants to hang out with her friends more than Arthur, frequently teasing him to win the approval of older girl, Mazen Bailey.

When the twins stay with their eccentric granddad for the summer holidays, he promises them that they can use his attic as their special den provided they clear it out first.  As they remove the rubbish and the many peculiar items from the attic, Arthur finds all the things he and Rose used to play with when they imagined Roar, including the map they drew and Arthur realises that Roar wasn’t a game – it was a real place that the pair used to visit – only Rose refuses to believe him.  When Crowky, the evil scarecrow/crow hybrid, kidnaps their granddad, Arthur is determined to go and rescue him and discovers a Roar that is both just as he remembered it, but also very different as Crowky has used the twins’ absence to build up his own power …

Acclaimed YA author Jenny McLachlan’s debut middle grade fantasy novel (gorgeously illustrated by Ben Mantle and the first of a duology) is a stunningly good read – moving, funny and with a lot to say about facing your fears, embracing the power of imagination and the destructive need to be cool with the ‘in crowd’ it tips its hat at the Narnia and Peter Pan tradition, while updating it for a more tech savvy and less gender stereotyped readership.

Told by Arthur, a short boy anxious about starting senior school who misses his sister and doesn’t understand why she no longer wants to hang out with him, McLachlan really taps into that difficult emotional age where kids start to leave so-called ‘childish’ things behind and try to find their own way in the world.  I liked the differences between the twins – Arthur still willing to play and imagine things, no matter how silly, and Rose who is desperate to be cool and accepted, even if that means joining the awful Mazen (star of her own YouTube channel) in teasing her own twin.  McLachlan handles Rose’s reaction to being Roar in a subtle way that works really well on the page and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she slowly loosens up and realises what damage her own actions have caused – a scene where she reunites with Prosecco is particularly moving.

Roar itself is a great creation – a mix of things that younger kids find cool but that they’re also scared of – and I think McLachlan does a really accomplished job of combining that strange mix into something that’s both childish but also weirdly sinister.  This is helped by Ben Mantle’s great illustrations, which really get across a sense of exuberance (notably those of the Lost Girls and Winja practicing his ninja moves) but also the creepy elements of Crowky’s powers and appearance.  Winja is a really entertaining sidekick – reckless and foolhardy, his magic may leave something to be desired but his loyalty to Arthur and Rose is never in question – even if he doesn’t understand Rose’s sarcasm.  I also enjoyed the scenes between the twins and their granddad, a twinkling and loving man with secrets of his own but who has never lost his own sense of wonder and there’s a lot of humour in the book with some smart one-liners and funny set pieces.  

Older readers will recognise the heavy influence of Narnia on this book and especially the so-called Problem of Susan but while McLachlan clearly tips her hat at the C S Lewis books, this is very much a fantasy world for a modern age.  I liked the fact that the twins and their grandfather are bi-racial and I also loved the ever-so-slightly homicidal Lost Girls who are good at wrestling but also like woven bracelets.  This is portal fantasy for the 21st century, where you can have dragons but also worry about the effect of being turned into a scarecrow on an asthma condition.

A plot point relating to Mitch is clearly part of the set-up for the sequel and I’m hoping that there’ll also be more Crowky and Mazen (who really needs a come uppance).  Not only am I eagerly awaiting the sequel but I will be using the period until then to check out McLachlan’s YA novels. 

THE LAND OF ROAR was released in the United Kingdom on 1st August 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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