Saturday 27 February 2016

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book for readers 8+ years is unique, highly original and very exciting for this adult reader who has been reviewing children’s books for decades as it is so different! One reason is that there are two narrative voices controlling the story. There’s a first person omniscient (eccentric) narrator who takes the reader on a guided tour through the story from place to place, often setting the scene and atmosphere. Here’s the start of chapter five: ‘Oh, it is too much! Avert your eyes from the gruesome spectacle. Close this grisly book you read. Close it at once, I say. AT ONCE! Hand it to a responsible adult to throw upon a bonfire.’)

This narrator is intercepted at times by a third person narrator relating the adventures of the tale’s protagonist, Mabel Jones, whose baby sister Maggie is abducted by magic vines. Sometimes the first voice seamlessly merges into the second voice as the reader is catapulted into a series of awesome adventures that involves creatures such as buzzards and llamas, and places such Offal Stop and the Great Murky River.

Early in the book, as she searches for her stolen sister, Mabel is led into the filthy Hotel Paradiso, a place in the future in the City of Dreams in the Noo World populated with talking animals, all of which are quirky and eccentric and dressed outrageously. Mr Habib, a monkey who runs the Sacred Museum of Beaks, tells Mabel she is in great danger and that ‘only the pure of heart can defeat the dark magic.’

Not only is there rich and quirkily (and often exaggerated) descriptive language and non-stop action in this so-very-different novel, but the book is designed to look incredibly tempting for its young readers with words frequently presented in outstanding font and typeface. The frequent black and white illustrations are as creative as the text; in one section, the reader is even invited to examine an illustration to ‘see’ the book’s outlandish characters.

According to The Times, this innovative book (the second in a series) has ‘a dash of Lemony Snicket’ but in no way is it derivative. I can see it winning awards and young readers telling friends to beg, borrow or steal it. Highly recommended.

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