January 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Illmoor Chronicles - The Ratastrophe Catastrophe
by David Lee Stone
Hodder Children’s Books PPBK: ISBN 0340873973 PubDate: 01/01/04
Review by John Berlyne

272 pgs. List price 5.99
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Illmoor is a rather unsavoury land – the map at the front of the book shows towns such as Phlegm and Chudderford. Dullitch, the principal city of the region, is described as a “polluted, crime-ridden flea-pit of eccentricity, where man walks arm-in-arm with dwarf, troll walks arm-in-arm with man and dwarf walks arm-in-arm with troll (figuratively speaking).” An infestation of huge rats breaks out from underground and the ineffectual city council under the watchful eye of the even more ineffectual Duke Modesit (a man considering faking his own death so that he can get away from the place!) are at a loss as to how to deal with it, a situation not helped by the fact that the city is virtually bankrupt.

Elsewhere a cloud of malign magic settles upon a young man idly playing his flute under a tree. It possesses the unwitting fellow, and adds a familiar twist to his playing. He finds himself followed along the road as he plays - by pigs, sheep, young girls, etc. Naturally he makes his way to the city, rids them of their rat problem and, finding no cash on delivery makes off with the children in tow. Meanwhile, we follow two mercenary adventurers who were after the rat-killing job themselves. Being none too happy at missing out, they head off, but soon enough they’re recalled and engaged in the job of ridding the city of its child-kidnapping problem. Aided by a drunken retired sorcerer and his grandson, a truly terrible thief, the story climaxes as the two factions meet in battle.

The Ratastrophe Catastrophe is easy reading at its very best. It’s funning and charming, saucy in places and guaranteed to bring a smile to your grizzled old features. It’s by no means original, but that serves it well. For here there are conventions at play that we, as readers, are comfortable with. It is neither a tribute to nor parody of fantasy, but nor is it a pale imitation. Rather it is a joyful and often wonderfully silly book and its sheer simplicity of plot and really very good writing make it one of the most welcoming and entertaining pieces I’ve read in while.

It is interesting that this novel, with all its fantasy tomfoolery, has hit the market as a children’s book. (It was issued in hard cover earlier this year.) Certainly it has no pretence to be sophisticated in any gown up way (one of its many charms) but to my eye, it seemed no more juvenile in tone than much of Pratchett’s work or novels by, say, Robert Asprin or indeed any other acknowledged fantasy humorist. The boundaries between adult and young adult or YA and children’s fiction are grey to say the least. I firmly believe that if it weren’t for Pratchett’s success, books that contain dwarves, giant’s and jokes would all be treated as kid’s reading.

Be assured that The Illmoor Chronicles is a treat for genre readers of all ages. I look forward to more.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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