I started The Mobile Monster Zoo which much enthusiasm, as not only is this the second novel in The Midnight Chronicles, it again featured Bethany, a witch by chance, and who is full of wit and supernatural surprises. If you remember from the first novel (The Weird Case of Mrs Etherington-Strange) Bethany meets a whole gang of new witch-y friends up on the magical floating city of Strataton. Everything was not as it first seemed however and Bethany found herself pitted against the Grand High Witch, all with a twist thrown in for good measure. Only with the help of a sinister and devious Mr Midnight, could she bring peace back to Strataton.
In this sequel, Bethany finds things getting rather strange. Somebody has stolen the Obsidian Orb, the source of all Strataton's magical power and the city atop a candyfloss cloud starts to sink towards Windy Falls! She suspects it has something to do with the sly Mr Midnight, but with the appearance of a magical zoo, filled with otherworldly animals, Bethany isn't sure what's going on. Bethany, Jake, Caitlin and Derek the cheese-spewing dragon go up to the sinking city to find what's a miss. Only this time, there is a ban on all magic.
What worked really well with this sequel is again the main protagonist. Bethany is such a great young character who isn't afraid to speak her mind when needed, but also for such a young girl, already has a very developed sense of humour. Her witty remarks and quick thinking make for a great read and when you mix that with the slightly dim-witted Jake, who is often slow off the mark; it all makes for great dialogue. In fact, all of the characters in The Midnight Chronicles have their own voice and personality and it really brings both books to life.
As with the first book, The Mobile Monster Zoo is a book aimed for the 9 - 12 age range and despite having elements that perfectly suit this, it does aim to please other readers too; often with the plot twists and sinister goings-on that perhaps can be a little too advanced for the younger mind, but absolutely spot on for the YA range. Though it does have to be said that Neil Trigger does elaborate for the younger minds and it's very easy to see how it can be used to introduce the fantasy genre to children who might have never come across witches, wizards and dragons other than simple and nicely tied-up-in-a-bow fairytales.
Neil Trigger is a gifted writer, it has to be said. He has a charming quality that made Roald Dahl extremely popular with children who went in search of something quite spectacular compared to the more structured early learning books. Like Dahl, Trigger has a brilliant imagination and it comes to forefront in this sequel. He mixes light and fluffy elements, such as candyfloss clouds, with more evil and grotesque fantasy components. Just take the title for example; The Mobile Monster Zoo. I'll let you discover what weird and wonderful creatures are hidden within its tent, but I'll give you two words - Sofa Monkey.
His use of language is wonderfully mystifying too. He uses plenty of puns and interesting quips that almost certainly raise a smile when you're reading. For instance, there is a character called Polly, who makes an appearance as a market seller. Her surname is then revealed to us as Pants. A bit later on, we then find out her middle name is Esther. When put together we get Polly-Esther Pants - how can you not chuckle at that!
The Mobile Monster Zoo isn't perfect however. As enjoyable as it was, I felt it lacked that something special that made the first book so captivating. Now, you could probably think of plenty of examples for this, but The Mobile Monster Zoo is not the book that should welcome you to the series. It relies heavily on the suspicion that you have already read the first book. Although most book series do this, The Mobile Monster Zoo most definitely does so. It does have a few quick summary paragraphs to fill you in on what's already past, but it's done so in a reminder way rather than giving newcomers vital information.
Some of the writing also suffers from errors. Without sounding cheeky, The Mobile Monster Zoo could definitely have gone through a final thorough edit. You find simple words like the and a missing from sentences sometimes. It results in giving the book a rather amateur feel when the story itself most certainly deserves more, which is a shame.
Even though there are plenty of story arcs here, sometimes you can feel that The Mobile Monster Zoo is a little disjointed. You find the gang of youngsters swapping from this place to place, to another place only to return to their first location again in a short space of time. You often get the feeling that you want something a little more substantial.
Despite having a few downsides, The Mobile Monster Zoo is a fantasy story that has it all. A cheese-spewing dragon, witches, magic, elves - you name it! It's a satisfying sequel that extends Bethany's story, revealing a few huge details along the way. Returning to Strataton was also enjoyable, whether it is because of the lamb-posts and the candyfloss clouds of magic or the wonderfully described curved High-Street that reminds you of The Weird Case of Mrs Etherington-Strange. What really draws you in however is the brilliant, almost wacky, mind of its author and the superb characters that fill its pages. The Midnight Chronicles (so far) is a great little series that takes the fight to Harry Potter and dare I say it, comes out on top. I again look forward to the next book.