Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker by Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921977671
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Maddie is a reflective and intelligent child with a rather special ability - she is omnilingual; a talker of tongues. Kazuki, Maddy’s friend from Japan has scant knowledge of English. It is while trying to communicate with him that Maddy realizes she can understand his language. Kazuki, bullied and belittled by his older brother, is timid and introverted, but has formed a strong bond of friendship with the empathetic Maddy. He also has a great imagination and believes he is a ninja and can make himself invisible. This belief will stand him in good stead during the dark days that follow the unsuspecting children.

On the day Maddy starts talking in Japanese, her mother takes her to the doctor to be cured. She discovers that her daughter is a genius and decides that Maddy’s talent can be financially rewarding after appearing on a television program for a substantial payment. This deceptive gift proves to be a magnet to evil intent, black magic, kidnapping and dangerous adventures which will take Maddy from England to Bulgaria, and bring out the crusader in Kazuki.

While returning from the TV appearance on the train, Maddy meets an old man who talks to her of her magic abilities and warns her against the darker side of magic then disappears. Soon after, Maddy’s parents are approached by Professor Coateloch who gets permission for Maddy to travel with her to Bulgaria to read some ancient scrolls hidden in a monastery there.

But Maddy is kidnapped soon after her arrival in Bulgaria, and is forced to translate the stolen scrolls by a witch and her daughters who hold Kazuki under the threat of death. Realization comes too late to Maddy, for her translations involve spells of black magic; recipes for thunderstorms, calling up of animals, and worst of all, the taking of tongues. She also learns that things and people aren’t always what they appear to be.

Maddy’s gift has a luminous side as well. She will encounter the giant wrestler Dimitar and his magical monkey Mr Chester, inherited from his late father, and come to the understand that while the spoken and written language is the greatest tool of communication, it is often wordless actions are of greater significance.

The black and white illustrations add a delicious touch to the atmosphere of the book as does the terrific cover design. It’s another good versus evil delight that is has a clever, well-designed story, with fast-paced adventure, penned by an imaginative master storyteller for the mature 8+ age group.

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