infinity plus - sf, fantasy and horror non-fiction: reviews, interviews and features
infinity plus home pagefictionnon-fictionother stuffa to z

The Illmoor Chronicles:
The Ratastrophe Catastrophe

by David Lee Stone

(Hodder Children's Books, £5.99, 256 pages, paperback, first published 2003, this edition published 15 January 2004.)

Review by Caleb Woodbridge

The Ratastrophe Catastrophe is the first book in The Illmoor Chronicles, a tongue-in-cheek fantasy series. It begins with the cover scanpossession of young Diek Wustapha by dark magic. He then develops a talent for music that is quite literally enchanting. Meanwhile, the city of Dullitch is experiencing something of an invasion of rats, and the Dullitch Council decides that something must be done…

I don't know about you, but personally I enjoy reading children's books, despite now being a bit too old to count as a child. Books written for children are often simply unashamedly entertaining in a way that some adult fiction seems rather ashamed to be. The discipline of keeping the writing focused and fast-moving for an audience who will display few qualms in switching over to the television or computer games if they get bored helps avoid meandering and drawn-out plots, the recent overlong Harry Potter books excepted. And many books allegedly for children tackle big issues in a way that is interesting and thought-provoking for anyone.

But sometimes a book comes along which brings me back down to earth and reminds me that for every really great story, there are several dull, unimaginative tales, the literary equivalent of the Saturday morning television mush dealt out to preteens. Unfortunately, this book is one of them.

Never judge a book by its cover; however, the computer-generated images of two very cartoonish characters on the cover seem to me to be a good reflection of the style of the book. The fantasy world David Stone creates has a very definite air of artificiality. At times it seems as if he is trying to replicate the humour of a television cartoon in print, but to my mind at least this simply doesn't work. Having a thief's grappling hook catch on the collar of a sleeping guard dog may be funny on screen, but just seems rather daft in prose. Some of it also seems reminiscent of the fantasy world of a slightly bland computer game, with stock-in-trade magicians, trolls, thieves and so on populating the pages.

I don't know whether the map full of places with names like Spittle, Legrash and Dullitch is supposed to be funny, but if it is, then it in my opinion falls rather flat. If you want a chuckle-inducing fantasy map, check out the one at the front of Diana Wynne Jones' hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

Being a comic take on the tale of the Pied Piper, this book inevitably and unfortunately also invites comparison with Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. This is unfortunate because The Amazing Maurice outshines this book on probably every count - laughs, storytelling, character and intelligence. Pratchett's twist of having intelligent rats in league with a talking cat and lad with a penny whistle going from town to town being cause and cure of a plague of rats, and charging a bagful of gold each time, was a clever and hilarious twist on the story. It also enabled some genuinely thought-provoking questions about the difference between animals and humans, the responsibilities of intelligence and so on to be raised. Ratastrophe on the other hand, just about does what it says on the tin - comic version of the Pied Piper - but no more than that.

There's nothing particularly interesting or original or thought provoking about it, no clever twists, no deeper questioning. The story is rather unsatisfying, just concluding rather than really providing a satisfying resolution. A catastrophe? No, merely inoffensively mediocre - neither particularly bad nor actively any good. As a no-brainer, unchallenging laugh you might enjoy it, but personally I was bored.

Let us know what you think of infinity plus - e-mail us at:

support this site - buy books through these links:
A+ Books: an insider's view of sf, fantasy and horror (US) | Internet Bookshop (UK)