John & Carole E. Barrowman: ‘Bone Quill’ book review

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Bone Quill is the sequel to Hollow Earth, last year’s fantasy novel for children written by Torchwood star John Barrowman and his sister Carole E. Barrowman featuring telepathic twins Matt and Em Calder.

As Animare, they are born into a magical tradition and possess the ability to both bring drawings to life and to enter paintings, though knowledge of their powers is still relatively new to them as they grew up in hiding.

The world of the Amimare is governed by some simple rules. Each are paired to a Guardian at the age of sixteen to help control their creative powers, for both their own good and that of the public at large. One of these rules, helpfully provided in a glossary at the end of the book, is that Animare and Guardians should not have children together. The Calder twins however were produced from just such a union and have emergent hybrid powers which make them both a potentially dangerous combination and a target for misuse.

While the first book centred on attempts to control the destiny of the twins, Bone Quill builds on what had gone before and delves into the past of both their family and of the island of Auchinmum where the tales are primarily set. In creating the fictional island, presented in both the present day and the middle ages, the authors have created a rich fantastical environment where the location is as much of a character as any individual.

As the story begins, the twin’s grandfather is recovering in hospital from a violent attack and their mother is missing. The revelation that the pair can time travel into the period in which a painting was created pushes the story on, cleverly linking the historical thread about the young monk Solon to the present day. The modern concerns of the twins fate as their powers develop are mostly left open to question, presumably to be picked up in subsequent volumes.

Monsters appear thick and fast, from slavering hell hounds to the fearsome Grendel who is rendered in a great passage as a dank creature rising from a smoke filled bog. Indeed ‘Beowulf’ is quoted just inside the book’s cover. Also returning to aid our heroes is the White Peryton, a noble winged stag which was summoned to defend the island previously. The bone quill of the book’s title is somewhat of a MacGuffin, finally appearing later in the tale as a remnant of the islands creation myth.

If Bone Quill seems at all unsatisfying, it is only because of its place as the second part of a trilogy. Picking up on the threads of Hollow Earth, the search for the twin’s missing mother dominates the early part of the book and it delivers on that mystery while at the same time setting up further challenges.

While there are obvious comparisons to be made with certain other children’s fantasy book series, these stories stand well on their own as involving and immersive tales with a definite page-turning quality.

Cultbox has already passed on its copy to a young reader within the target age range but don’t let the nine to twelve years demographic fool you; there is plenty here for the more seasoned reader to enjoy with a time-travel element that requires a good deal of attention to keep track of.

Published on Thursday 7 February 2013 by Michael O’Mara Books.

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