The Blurb On The Back:
Brat has always lived in the isolated castle on the island, taking care of the vicious creatures that his master creates, waiting in terror for the moment when they are ready to be put to use. But then the unthinkable happens. The monsters get out. Now Brat must overcome his features, and venture into the world he has hidden from his whole life. For the fate of the everyone rests on his shoulders alone …
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Brat has lived in the castle on the island ever since he was little when he washed up on the beach after a ship wreck that killed his mum and dad and his master, Lord Macawber saved his life. Lord Macawber is a necromancer who is trying to create an army of monsters from the different creatures that live in the ravaged world of Niyandi Mor. He plans to use this army to attack the Domed City because after his wife died the City’s ruler, the mage Lord Karush banished him and kept hold of his daughter, Ellari.
For the last few years Brat has been working as Lord Macawber’s assistant, which includes feeding the rejected monsters who have been put in cages in the lower levels of the castle, cleaning, cooking and assisting Lord Macawber as he creates his monsters. Brat has tried persuading his master to abandon his work, worried about the danger that the monsters pose, but Lord Macawber won’t listen and Brat is too scared to leave as Lord Macawber has told him that those who live in the Domed City would never accept someone as useless as Brat. Instead Brat stays in the castle, hoping for a kind word from Lord Macawber and hanging with his two friends Tingle and Sherman – two of the first creatures created by Lord Macawber but discarded for not being frightening enough.
But then the unthinkable happens: Lord Macawber raises a creature called Wrath who he cannot control. When Wrath frees the other monsters from the castle, Brat, Tingle and Sherman must head to the Domed City to warn them that the monsters are coming and want to kill them all. But Brat is scared of everything and is certain that no one will believe him – how is he ever going to convince them and what will happen to him when he does?
Lorraine Gregory’s standalone dark fantasy novel for children aged 9+ has a believable central character who needs to overcome his fears and his relationship with Tingle and Sherman and desperation for love from Lord Macawber is sweet without ever being sickly. However the story is a little episodic and dependent on sudden revelations to get characters out of trouble and there’s a twist at the end that I think could have been hints at earlier.
I think that Brat is a very likeable character and easy to believe in. Gregory does a good job of showing his desperation for a kind word from the single-minded and kinda crazy Lord Macawber, his friendship with Sherman and Tingle (where they behave like younger, squabbling siblings who need supervising) and also his fear of being rejected by the people in the Domed City (which I think a lot of child readers will relate to). I also enjoyed the friendship he develops with the more spirited, can-do Molly and I would have liked to see that developed more because the scenes where she gives more information on the mage war that destroyed Niyandi Mor and how displaced people live outside the Domed City were really interesting and gave Brat more information than he had previously had while also making him question what Lord Macawber had told him. However, a revelation that comes at the end of the book could have been seeded a little earlier, especially because of the emotional ramifications that come from it and because of what it actually means for Brat and the wider story. I also wish that there had been a few more scenes between Brat and Ellari given their respective relationships with Lord Macawber.
The way Gregory drip feeds in the world building worked well for me – I liked the slow reveals as they gave the world a more believable vibe to it. It’s a short book so there were still some questions (most notably why some mages have their magic run out and what that means in practice). Gregory also makes some pointed comments about abuse of power and how those in charge use fear to control people. I wish that Karush had been better developed antagonist because I found him a little one-note and think he could have brought an additional dimension to the story and he also suffers from being very similar to Patches who rules Arberra. Equally Wrath is a very one note antagonist who does little than want to kill humans and eat Brat – given how some of Lord Macawber’s creations have more reasoning, I would have liked to have seen something extra to make him stand out and give him depth.
My biggest issue with the book though is that there’s an episodic vibe to it. You know what beats are going to come and Gregory hits them all but I think the deus ex machina device employed to get them out of trouble was overdone and became old for me quite quickly. As a result, I think the predictability meant that the book lost a little tension for me as a result – but I say that recognising that the target audience probably will not be as alert to it.
My criticisms aside, I did like this book and I think that Gregory treads that narrow path between being sweet and being sickly with aplomb. Brat is a genuinely likeable main character who you do root for and I would actually quite happily read a sequel to this if Gregory wrote one.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.