Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pyre of Queens by David Hair (Penguin NZ)
David Hair’s first fantasy/horror series was set in New Zealand and began with The Bone Tiki. He will have accumulated a fan base (mainly teenage boys) who will be keen to try his latest four-volume series set in India – called The Return of Ravana. The first book in the series is Pyre of Queens. The author draws upon the Indian epic, the Ramayana, to provide a mythological background for his plot. The timeframe alternates between present-day India and an eighth-century kingdom called Mandore. The ancient story involves a wicked raja who attempts to burn himself and his seven wives as part of a spell to give him eternal life. However one wife is rescued at the last minute by a love-struck poet, thus interfering with the spell and turning the raja and the other wives into zombie-like demons. The poet and the queen are hunted by imperial soldiers, but the military commander is also in love with the queen and ends up helping the pair. However the three fugitives are also being hunted by something much worse than mere soldiers – the furious demon-raja and his hideous demon wives... The present-day story involves a similar triangle of teenagers – two boys and one girl. Eventually they realise they are reincarnations of the ancient Mandore characters, and they doomed to re-enact the old story. Or maybe not...

It’s a very complex plot, best for fantasy/horror fans of about fourteen and upwards. Be prepared for plenty of action, suspense, violence, bloodshed and death. My advice to readers is to first read the section at the end called A Brief Introduction to the Ramayana. That really helped me understand what was going on.

ISBN 978 0 14 330612 2 RRP $25

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

A Bigger Digger by Brett Avison, illus. Craig Smith, The Five Mile Press

My two little grandsons are in the target audience for this excellent picture book, so I was delighted to be given a copy to review. Yes, it does evoke memories of the Gilderdales’ classic book The Little Yellow Digger but there’s enough of an individual spin in this story to allow the two to compliment each other. Bryn and his dog Oscar are digging in the back yard when they discover ... a dinosaur head! The museum sends round a digger, but dinosaurs are VERY big – soon they need a bigger digger. And so on. I don’t want to give away the twist at the end of the story – suffice to say that things keep escalating. The very last double-spread contains a superb paper-engineered digger – librarians beware, because little fingers will poke and prod at it.

The rhyming text flows well and will be great fun to read aloud. The book’s hardback presentation and lavish design make it a joy to handle. Craig Smith’s illustrations are colourful, action-packed, and extremely inventive – they reward careful study. Heartily recommended for children of about four to eight. I can’t wait to read it to my grandsons...

ISBN 978 1 74248 410 5 RRP $24.99 (Publication date 18 May)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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