Monday, 30 May 2011

The Doomspell by Cliff McNish

This is the first book in a trilogy written for children between the ages of 9 and 12.

Author: Cliff McNish is now a fairly well established children's author. The Doomspell was his first book. He is British and writes in British English.

Presentation: Quite a large paperback. The writing is relatively small for a children's book with quite a lot of it on each page. There are 21 chapters of roughly the same length.

Story: Rachel and her brother Eric get pulled through a gate between dimensions. They arrive on a planet where the Witch Dragwena has been exiled. For many years she has been looking for a child with enough magical potential to help her to return to Earth. Rachel immediately proves to be a wielder of powerful magic but her brother does not seem to have any magic at all, which is odd on Dragwena's planet where all of Earth's children usually have at least some magic. Dragwena forgets about Eric and hopes to make Rachel a Witch like herself. Dragwena's servants, children she brought to her perpertually grey planet many years before, hope that Rachel will be their salvation, that Rachel will be the child to bring Dragwena's rule to an end.

Thoughts and impressions: For a children's book this is a very interesting read with a lot of ideas set in place for the other two books in the trilogy. As a child (reading it around the age of 12) I adored the book, as an adult I was not drawn into the world quite so much but it was still an engrossing read. McNish describes his world, I think the name was Ithrea, very well and I found it very easy to envision the grey skies, endless snowfall and dreary atmosphere - conditions that some of the characters have been living in for hundreds and hundreds of years.
It has to be said that the Witch is a very powerful antagonist and the descriptions of her may be upsetting for some. Personally, I found it quite hard to imagine some of her physical features: for example, she is described as having slitted eyes that reach to the back of her head. I, however, found her an interesting antagonist. She has no redeeming qualities, but that is often the case with evil characters in books aimed at a younger audience. 
I am not entirely sure how old the two children are supposed to be. I get the impression that Eric is about 8 and Rachel closer to 10 or 11 but I may be a bit off on this. Both of them are well-drawn characters. Eric takes a bit of a backseat but I think that his intriguing powers will play a more vital role in the other two books in the series.

Final Verdict: Certainly a recommended read for younger readers who are not daunted by evil characters and like a good fantasy. 4 stars.

Extra notes: No content that would not be appropriate for children. As mentioned, the antagonist may be a little too evil for some. For younger children it may be better if the parent reads the book outloud.


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