Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is due for release in October 2017 and is the first novel that has been both written and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson. It is a humorous Gothic fantasy for younger readers that focuses on a vampire’s attempt to rescue her pet from a wicked prince. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

The Kingdom of Nocturnia is a place where things are more than happy to go bump in the night. The ghoulish inhabitants have only one thing to fear, and that is glitter. They know that they are safe so long as they are home before dawn, as that is when terrible things like unicorns, faeries and kittens wake up. Nobody wants to find themselves face to face with a faery. The very thought is too terrible to contemplate.

Amelia Fang is pretty happy on the whole. Her mother is obsessed with looking pretty and her father is a crossword enthusiast but she has two great friends – Florence the Yeti and Grimaldi the Grim Reaper – and a loyal companion in her pet pumpkin, Squashy. However, everything changes when Prince Tangine enrols in her school. Amelia knows that the Prince’s mother was eaten by a faery and wants to feel sorry for him, however he makes it very difficult. Prince Tangine is rude to everyone and is given whatever he wants, even if that thing belongs to someone else.

When the Prince comes for dinner at her house and takes a liking to Squashy, Amelia’s mother immediately hands the poor pumpkin over as a gift. Amelia is heartbroken. She cares about Squashy more than anything and knows that Tangine won’t treat her pet nicely. With Florence and Grimaldi’s help, she embarks on a mission to get him back. However, in doing so she discovers that there is more to her enemy than she first thought…

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I have a really soft spot for spooky stories. Halloween is by far my favourite time of the year and this story revels in the spirit of the holiday. Nocturnia is a place that’s delightfully grotesque. It’s a kingdom where all things creepy and disgusting are the norm, and cute and glittery things are something to be feared. It’s a really simple reversal of a typical children’s fantasy story yet I found it to be massively effective. A lot of the story’s humour is driven by how odd it seems for monsters like vampires and yetis to be terrified of having their eyes scratched out by fluffy kittens.

One of the most charming things about this story are its illustrations, which are sure to win over children of all ages. Anderson’s art style reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s and really did suit the story well. Her pictures are simple yet expressive, really capturing the personality of the characters. From the hulking yet surprisingly graceful Florence to the diminutive Prince Tangine, the characters are all immediately identifiable.

The frequent illustrations also help make up for the occasional weakness in the prose. While I’ve reviewed illustrated middle grade novels before, like A Series of Unfortunate Events, these stories didn’t really need the pictures. In the case of Amelia Fang, the prose isn’t quite as solid. It’s charming enough, but it does lack detail. Anderson doesn’t use a lot of descriptive text and so without the pictures, you wouldn’t have a very good idea of what things looked like. For example, midway through the novel Amelia comments on the fact that her wings are just for show. If it wasn’t for the pictures, I would not have realised that she had wings before this point.

However, gripes aside, the plot of this first novel is fast-paced and engaging. The book is a very easy read and so would certainly be a good one for a reader who lacks confidence. The spoiled Prince is quick to establish himself as a villain and is very easy to hate, so you really do root of Amelia as she tries to rescue Squashy from his clutches. I was actually surprised to find that I totally invested in the well-being of the pumpkin, which is certainly something that I never thought that I would write on this blog.

However, I never felt that the story became too frightening or heavy going. All pumpkin endangerment is nicely balanced by Anderson’s excellent use of word play. This book is full of Halloween themed puns, which I found an absolute delight to read. Grimaldi carries around his diephone, so his Grandfather can contact him if there have been any deaths (as Grimaldi is a reaper-in-training, he only deals with squashed frogs) and all of the characters are completely obsessed with watching the Great British Carve Off.

As simple as the plot is, it is still compelling to read. As the story progresses, it reveals some great twists. While these are signposted from very early in the tale, they still come as a pleasant surprise and take the story in a somewhat unexpected direction. The ending of this novel was very satisfying, completely wrapping up the Squashy-related plot, but it was still far from final. There are some very major loose threads hanging which I will not spoil here, making it clear where the story will be heading in a future sequel.

In terms of characterisation, I felt that this book was very strong. While Amelia and her friends took central stage, there were a lot of other memorable gribblies that populated Nocturnia. I loved Amelia’s skeletal teacher, who would take off her head and put it in a cupboard if she needed peace and quiet, and the Fangs’ ghostly butler, Wooo, who would not stand for Prince Tangine’s rudeness at all.

Yet the most important characters were Amelia and her friends, all of whom were very realistic pre-teens. While their decisions (like breaking into a palace to rescue a pumpkin) didn’t always make sense logically, they did feel like the kind of mad ideas that a desperate child would think up. The story carried a nice message about acceptance and the correct way to make friends, and Amelia embodied this very well. While her patience wasn’t endless, she did try to do the right thing and I felt that this made her a good role model for younger readers. She tried her hardest to see the best in people and was able to admit when she had made a mistake.

I really don’t have a lot more to say. All in all, I thought that this was a great children’s book. It’s utterly charming, filled with fang-tastic humour, memorable characters and one adorable pumpkin. Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball would make a fantastic gift for a young reader this Halloween, and I really can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is due for release on 5th October and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

5 Comments (+add yours?)

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