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The Maloneys' Magical Weatherbox Paperback – 30 Apr 2015
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A magical tourist, a bog beast, two hags and some very mixed-up seasons . . . it all adds up to a truly original magical adventure.
About the Author
Nigel Quinlan is an Irish writer born in Limerick in 1970. He has worked in libraries and bookshops all over Ireland before washing up in the midlands village of Cloughjordan with his wife and his two children. He writes stories for local festivals and acts with the local drama group. His first novel, THE MALONEYS' MAGICAL WEATHERBOX is a middle grade fantasy based on a short story he wrote as a teenager while minding his parents' petrol pumps.
Find Nigel's website at http://uglychicken.livejournal.com/
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The plot is twisty, action packed and satisfying. The Maloney family characters are distinct and each is given a prominent role in the story. The supporting characters have great appeal. A few of them provide solid, honest comic relief. The action is ripping and the magic is big and compelling. The weather angle is still the weakest aspect, but it's not the central aspect; (the Maloneys are). Anyway a magical fantasy/adventure has to be about something, and striving over who gets to control the weather is more fun than just another story about battling to keep the dark lord/magician/king/demon from taking over some happy fantasy land somewhere.
It's pretty rare to have five family member characters who all each pull their weight. Dad is the Weatherman. The oldest child, and oldest son, Neil, is the heir to the Weatherman mantle. Mom is a powerful figure with a vague backstory. Liz is more interested in the Weatherman legacy than is Neil and chafes at being neither the eldest nor male. Third child Owen is a bit dreamy and vague, but he has his role too. Despite some sibling rivalry, some girrrll power issues, and some parental conflict and distance, all of which work and all of which contribute to the depth of the story, what really matters here is that the Maloneys are a single family, all pulling in the same direction and all protective of each other. Without being heavy-handed, this is "family values" in action.
Balancing this is a great cast of secondary characters. You have a grand wizarding villainess, whose two main henchmen are her husband and son. But then you get wandering "Ed the Tourist" who attaches himself to the Maloneys and is a fascinating compendium of folklore, myth stories, deadpan understatement and total bull. You get two kvetching witches who seem to have wandered in from a Terry Pratchett book. And the list goes on. There's a bog monster. There's some odd, possible dangerous, threatening newborn "thing". These are all well conceived characters and they add spice and vary the pace and tone of the story. An unexpected bonus.
No details here on the plot, except to say that everyone is battling with everyone else to control the weather. The seasons have been sort of anthropromorphised, (or at least given will and purpose), which I don't really go for, but it does add a few more characters to the mix and they don't take an active role throughout the book. As to the titular "Weatherbox", which is the doorway through which the new seasons enter the world, I'm willing to overlook that as just a big winking goof on Dr. Who, and call it a day.
There are a few info dumps and a fair amount of monologuing, but I don't see that as a problem in books for younger readers because it does help them keep track of the who, what, and why of the action. If it doesn't get in the way of the story then I'm fine with being reminded about what's going on. Anyway, most of the info dumps come from engaging characters like the Tourist or Dad or Mom Maloney, so they work better than most.
The upshot for me was that this was a lot more entertaining, amusing and satisfying than I suspected, and much better constructed and written than I had any reason to suspect. If you like magic/fantasy/adventure and are willing to step off the beaten path, this could be a nice choice.
(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
Neil and Liz Maloney's family is special, because their Dad is the all-powerful Weatherman who plays a vital role in the changing of the seasons. They have a reputation for being weird, and not in a good way. Both Neil and Liz struggle with very real secrets, responsibilities, and hard-to-realise dreams. It's all complicated by bully Hugh Fitzgerald, their sworn enemy down the road, whose family years ago (well, mostly his mother) almost brought the Maloneys - and the whole world - to ruin. Throw in an irrepressibly cheerful Tourist, some hags, a shape-shifting bog beast, not to mention the fascinating Mrs Fitzgerald, and let the battle commence.
A rollicking good story about concepts everyone will recognise - the magical properties of weather and the battle for power between good and evil - it's still fresh and original and not like anything I've read before, full of Terry Pratchett-like jokes and asides which will appeal to adults as much as children. The idea of the old phone box - the Weatherbox - is just brilliant, and there's some lovely sideswipes at gender stereotyping which both boys and girls will love. The writing sparkles with wit and originality, full of vivid description, and the action-packed story runs at a frantic pace which becomes a thrilling page-turner in the final third of the novel. The background story is quite complex and leaves plenty of room for a sequel, which I'd love to see. An intriguing debut for an author who I'm sure has much, much more to come.
I give it 4 stars, because although I think it's the best children's book I've read in years, I'm an adult, and the 8 and 9-year-old children I know are a bit too young yet to appreciate the sometimes densely descriptive text. I think it's targeted at 10-12 year olds: it might suit advanced readers if at the bottom of this age range, or as the next step up the ladder for children who have outgrown David Walliams.
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