Monday, 11 April 2011

review: Nightshade City

by Hilary Wagner
Holiday House, 2010
middle-grade fantasy


It's been years since the tyrannical Killdeer and his sidekick-slash-killing-machine Billycan took over the Catacombs, the underground colony of rats. The only descendants of Julius Nightshade, the famous leader of the crushed Loyalist rebellion, are Victor and Vincent, two brothers who're about to be recruited into the Kill Army. When they make a run for Topside, they meet Juniper Belancourt, their father's old friend, who's reviving the Loyalist rebellion in a new secret city. With the help of Clover, an assertive female, and several allies, the Loyalists prepare to stage another revolution in an effort to overthrow Killdeer and Billycan once and for all.
The cover:

The look of intelligence in the rat's expression helps us get into the right mindframe in regarding rats as intellectual beings. However, the pencil work on that particular illustration is a little bit foggy, and the similar colours blend into each other, making the whole drawing look rather indistinct. Also, a comment on the interior font -- it's a faded serif font, which makes it immensely trying to read. Book designers? Don't do this.

The book:

As is expected in epic fantasies featuring animals, the point of view is omniscient. Shifts in POV are sometimes jarring, especially with the many characters, but Wagner manages to keep the adults' voices somewhat distinct from the children's. The sheer multitude of characters with similar single-syllable names make it difficult to keep track of who's who, never mind the ample family history provided.

The plot itself hitches and breaks, mainly because of the multiple POVs; one gets the feeling that the story would be much more quickly over if we only stayed in, say, Victor and Vincent's perspective, or Clover's. The tension is ratcheted up nicely, though, so the reader stays engaged, and the final battle at the end is, suitably, epic.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5