Mid-Gideon the Cutpurse by the sort-of talented Linda Buckley-Archer, I am thrown into a fit of puzzlement.
Gideon has been extremely well advertised by the publisher. I mean, who didn't get a copy of the ARC in the Spring. Everyone got one !! I saw a couple of squirrells at Queen's Park reading them.
There are banners and posters and slip covers and booths dedicated to its glory at bookfairs and preview shows and I am wondering why, WHY is Gideon the YA book of the year. It certainly has had the best publicity of any new kids' novelist this past year and yet, it is not the best book I have read. The expectations were high. The bar was waaaaaaaaay up there * Melrose demonstratively draws line in air with finger* and the book is, well, erm... half way down.
See, kids, I have discovered some fantastic YA novelists this year. It being my guilty passion, I read a ton of it. And Gideon is lagging somewhat behind.
I have heard Gideon compared to the fantastic and breathtaking Montmorency series by Eleanor Updale. Updale is one of the few YA novelists who has really broken many of the rules. Her series is fresh and groundbreaking. I sell it to kids and adults alike. The reason being, Montmorency the Jekyll/Hyde-esque thief and gentleman is not a kid. Moreover, none of the other characters in the novels are. What a concept. To write a challenging and engaging series for kids that does not underestimate them;That expects them to reach her level. They are expected to keep up and move on.
Another exception to the rule is the beautiful novelist, Megan Whalen Turner, whose hero Eugenides has captured hearts of many in the gorgeously-woven Attolia series ( The King of Attolia being the most recent ). Turner's darkish character, Gen, spins a fresh thread of dual-nature. The politics undermining the duelling kingdoms is complex and illuminating. Kids can breeze through it for its fantastic adventure and creepy dark caverns and corners, yes, but they must have their thinking caps on. It is almost mythical..... a legendary fantasy set in a time not unlike how I picture ancient Greece.
Catherine Webb is a 2nd year history major at the University of London and already, at the meagre age of 19, has written a handful of fantasy books. Damned good fantasy books at that !The one that most captured my heart was The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle. Dr. Who meets Sherlock Holmes in this rollicking mystery set at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Webb is an atmospheric writer with a tongue-in-cheek turn of phrase and one of the best senses of humour I have read in a long time. Once again, Horatio Lyle is an adult star the children who help ( Thomas the young aristocrat and Tess the pickpocket) are yes, more than archetypal, but still figure as secondary characters. I am aching for the second installment( "The Obsidian Dagger" ) to reach my doorstep later this week ( godspeed chapters.ca!! )
So, with all of this outstanding ( and most importantly, literate ) YA stuff out there why are the publishers so attracted to this particular story?
Is it the time travel thing? ( ummm, think not !! Read the Fetch by CC Humphreys.... it has smoother transitions from the modern period to the age of the Vikings. Gideon's time-hops are clunky and awkward ).
Is it the historical aspect? Nope. There's tons out there. Even from the 18th Century.
Is it the boy/girl dynamic? I think we can all safely say that that has peaked in Meyer's blockbustering phenomenon Twilight and its sequel, New Moon.
Is it the character waning between good and evil ? Nope. Read Jonathan Stroud.
Is it the scar-faced villain? Ummm, the "tar man?" I should think no imaginative youngster is trembling in their boots. No hair is raised unsuspectingly on their arms. No spider-like tingle is crawling up the backs of their hairlines.
I am absolutely flabberghasted as to this fall's major kids' pick. There's no code to break, no style to start, no movie options. Why is this thing so huge?!!?
That being said, it is a mellow and entertaining novel, and Gideon ( the mysterious aristocrat/cutpurse ) of the title reads very much like Percy of the Scarlet Pimpernel ( read the long blonde queu and the engaging smile and the other "hidden" side).
But, as far as I can tell it is not worth this unprecedented acclaim. In fact, unless Buckley-Archer crams in a lot of explaining as to "why" the transported children hover phantom-like between past and present and "why" they were slipped through the sky to a field of yesteryear, then I will be a very sceptical reader.
What connections does this lady have ?
Read later on for why I think the same over-hype is perpetuated in the build-up to the Thirteenth Tale by Setterfield.
NOTE: I have just read the reviews for Gideon on amazon and have discovered that most good reviews come from adults who got advanced reader copies. Ironic.