February 01, 2007


Children of the Lamp, Book Three: The Cobra King of Kathmandu. By P.B. Kerr. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

The Magician Trilogy, Book Two: Emlyn’s Moon. By Jenny Nimmo. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $9.99.

      These are two unusually compelling installments in two especially attractive fantasy series for young readers. Children of the Lamp is by Philip Kerr, a well-known British writer of thrillers for adults, and it bears many of the hallmarks of a well-crafted thrill ride: narrow escapes, nefarious enemies, and highly complex plots. In fact, as the third book in the series begins, the plot has gotten so involved that Kerr offers a three-page summary of the first two books – an overview that barely scratches the surface of the occurrences in The Akhenaten Adventure and The Blue Djinn of Babylon, and that will probably serve to confuse rather than inform readers who are new to the series. In fact, the worst thing about The Cobra King of Kathmandu is the difficulty of enjoying it fully without having read the first two books. There is simply too much back story for Kerr’s many references to make sense to anyone coming to this series for the first time. The solution is obvious: read (and thoroughly enjoy) the first two books, so you will be well acquainted with djinn twins John and Philippa Gaunt (and yes, her first name is the feminine form of the author’s name; make of that what you will). Only after you know of them, their still-developing powers, their djinn mother Layla, their uncle Nimrod, their nemesis Iblis, and the Homeostatis that Iblis seeks to disrupt, will the opening of this third book have its full effect: “The beginning of the horror occurred, as horror often does, in the dead of night, when most people were asleep.” From that start – which is actually a flashback – Kerr proceeds with a world-spanning story in which the twins try to help a fellow djinn whose best friend has been murdered by use of cobra venom. The trail leads to a cobra cult, and to a guru who once dealt with djinn possession of the British prime minister (who thought himself a 12-year-old girl). Kerr manages a delicate balancing act by maintaining a sense of humor even when his protagonists are in peril, as they often are. At one point, for instance, the guru utters a focusing word that “sounded like FENNIMOREWAXPLUMPERTON. (Perhaps there is a real word that sounds like FENNIMOREWAXPLUMPERTON, but if so then it does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, nor, for that matter, the Oxford Hindustani Dictionary.)” It is the fine blend of comedy and adventure that continues to keep Children of the Lamp at such a high level of enjoyability.

      The Magician Trilogy is enjoyable, too, but in a different and more serious way. Jenny Nimmo, author of the popular Charlie Bone books, keeps each installment in The Magician’s Trilogy short: Emlyn’s Moon runs a mere 152 pages (compared with 373 for The Cobra King of Kathmandu). But Nimmo packs a lot into a small package. The first book of this trilogy, The Snow Spider, introduced the fascinating eponymous character of Arianwen. Now the spider’s web-weaving helps young magician Gwyn and his friend Nia solve a strange mystery, which revolves around a boy named Emlyn who claims that his mother lives on the moon. Gwyn and Nia find themselves drawn to Emlyn, even though they are warned to stay away from him and his wild tales. How wild are they, though? When Emlyn decides he trusts Nia enough to tell her the story, he does so in so much detail that, almost against her will, Nia believes him. And then come the haunting whispers of children from somewhere far away…and the ice-cold flower…and an exciting rescue mission filed with enough mysteries and wonders to make readers eager to read the trilogy’s upcoming conclusion, Chestnut Soldier – the first chapter of which is included at the end of this volume.

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