Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Books 30 & 32 of 2016: Serpent Tide by K.L. Fogg & Saucerers and Gondoliers by Dominic Green

The books I'm reviewing today were both ones which I grabbed from my Kindle. Both came to me as free Kindle downloads on Amazon (I regularly scout out the freebies and download them while I can but don't often get around to reading them very quickly). They'd been on my Kindle probably since I got my first one way back in 2012 so last year I decided that the time had come to give them a go.

In Serpent Tide by K.L. Fogg, a young rich boy named Wesley Vandergrift lives with his highly protective mother in a mansion. Everything is provided for him but he is deeply unhappy, especially as his mother won't allow him the pets he desires. It's his greatest wish to be like his TV hero Jack Mackey, a sort of Steve Urwin character.

When Wesley meets someone who knows Jack everything starts to unravel and Wesley learns that he might not be who he was raised to be.

I'll wholeheartedly admit that I picked this book up because of the cover. It was in the Children's & Young Adult's section of Amazon and the cover image reminded me of the illustrations from A Series of Unfortunate Events. I'm a big fan of those books, and Brett Helquist's illustrations in general, so I added this to my virtual bookshelf.

I was kind of expecting a fantasy book with a cover like this. It is not a fantasy book. It's set in a thoroughly non-fantasy setting, but I felt like it required an equal measure of belief suspension as a fantasy book because everything was just so convenient. Imogene's money got her EVERYTHING! There were a very high number of contrived coincidences. I suspect that it wouldn't bother a younger reader but it frustrated me no end.

I also don't feel like the religious stuff really added anything to the story. There was a character who I think had been raised Catholic but had converted to Mormonism and she occasionally made comments but I don't see why that needed to be there. She could have been Jewish or an Atheist for all the difference it made to the story. It felt like a convenient way to explain why her family didn't get on with her but it wasn't necessary.

I read afterwards that the character was added in to help get the story published (with a Mormon publisher, I suspect) and that this is the author's religion also. I think if that was the angle they wanted to go down then they should've committed to it fully and made it an actual key part of the story, or just left it out all together, rather than the way it was done where it came across as an afterthought.

I'm sure that younger kids will lap up this series, but I don't feel the need to read on to the next book.

I followed this up by Dominic Green's Saucerers and Gondoliers. A little while ago I read another book by Dominic Green called Smallworld which was an interesting look at the sci-fi genre, with a hint of Terry Pratchett to his style.

This is the first in the Ant and Cleo book series. The two main characters happen to stumble across a flying saucer in the middle of an English park. And so it transpires that there's actually been a top secret space colony out in, well, space, for many years. The kids end up there embroiled in an intergalactic war between America, Britain and the United States of the Zodiac.

I couldn't help but be reminded of Terry Pratchett's foray into sci-fi writing in The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata. I did enjoy the start of Saucerers and Gondoliers but (not unlike my attempts at reading Sir Pterry's sci-fi offerings) I struggled to keep my focus when I was reading as the book went on.

I don't think this was just me though. The book began very strong but it seemed to wander a bit in the middle and I couldn't help but struggle to follow what was going on after that. The general idea was a good one though and I enjoyed the premise.

I did also like that fact that the hidden British space colony was called Gondolin. I felt like that was a little nod to Tolkien fans.

It has a fairly open-ended resolution which I guess allows it to follow on into the next book in the series. I think there are at least four of them in the Ant and Cleo series. But it's unlikely that I'll be picking any of those up. I have to admit that I kept falling asleep reading this one which was probably a combination of trying to read too late at night and also struggling to follow the story.

That said, Dominic Green's books are fun for a bit of lighthearted sci-fi escapism, so are probably worth picking up if that's your kind of thing.

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