Friday, 4 March 2016

Three Fantoms and a Ghost Ship

A treasured collection
It's been a while since I posted a book review, so I thought it was about time I put that right. Recently I have been reading a selection of books from Fantom Publishing, reprinting some novelizations of children's drama serials from my childhood days. It's funny but I don't actually recall them, and the stranger part of that is the subject matter would have wholeheartedly appealed to me then, and still does.

So how did I miss them? Maybe they clashed with something else at the time and I just didn't get to know they were on, remember this was the dark ages of TV when if you missed it, you missed it. There was no catch up, DVDs or even home videos. I have attempted to track them down now on DVD but delivery has been a problem, they have yet to arrive so I can't comment on the original dramas just yet.

But the books make for excellent reading, all very enjoyable.
So what were they?

My Good Reads rating *****
Children of the Stones 
by Jeremy Burnham & Trevor Ray
Based on their HTV TV series from 1977

The first of two fantasy series written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray for HTV. Matthew and his father Adam Brake arrive in Milbury so that Adam can perform a study of the standing stones and the stone circle that surrounds the village. Very soon they become aware that all is not as it should be in the village, but the nature of their concerns is hard to fathom since the villagers all appear to ‘happy’. Only a few newcomers to the village are not in on the greeting ‘Happy Day.’

A wonderful blend of science and superstition make this a haunting adventure that will keep you enthralled to the end, assuming they are ever allowed to escape the stones.

Raven by Jeremy Burnham & Trevor Ray
Based on their ATV TV series from 1977

The second offering to children’s drama from Jeremy Burnham & Trevor Ray. This time the focus is on an underground cave system that the government are planning to take control of and use to store nuclear waste.  Raven is a young man with a troubled background, fostered to Professor Young and his wife, who are leading a campaign to prevent the development as the cave system has unusual markings and legends that go back to the time of King Arthur.

Drawing more on the concerns of the day this adventure, still full of mystery and suspense does lose some of the fantasy element with the inclusion of the nuclear factor. This time astrology sits alongside the science which muddles the fantasy elements a bit.

The Moon Stallion by Brain Hayles
Based on his BBC TV series from 1978

It seems that King Arthur and sites of ancient superstitious belief formed the backbone of children’s drama back in the 70s. It is 1906 and the Purwell family arrive in the Berkshire Hills at the invitation of Sir George Mortenhurze so that Professor Purwell can research the sites of the legends of King Arthur. On their way there Paul and his blind sister Diana encounter the Moon Stallion, a beast that has its own myths and legends surrounding it. Mortenhurze has his own reasons to search out the Moon Stallion and along with his horse master, Todman, have other plans for night of Beltain that will put them all in danger.

The original drama and the novelization were written by Brian Hayles famous for creating the Celestial Toymaker and the Ice Warriors for Doctor Who. Although that is not the only Doctor Who link, as Diana was played by a young Sarah Sutton who was to go on to play Nyssa of Traken in the series.

Another captivating and entertaining read, which again lifts from known legends and mythology but presents them with a new twist giving a setting to an exciting adventure which proves that writing for a young audience can be both original and inspiring.   

I will certainly be looking up Fantom’s other books in this range, Sky and Return to the Stones. Look out for reviews of them in the not too distant future.

A view of my own stone circle that features heavily in my writing and games
And finally, proving that I’m not easily pleased....

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
By Valerie Martin
Published by Nan A. Talese

The book description promised adventure at sea, a ship without a crew, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing about the mysterious ship and a spiritualist medium.  What it actually delivered was a mishmash of short stories that barely had the legendary ship as a passing focus. It was difficult to see how the initial account of the Briggs family, which suggested a very promising and engaging start to the novel, drifted off course like the ship itself into a sea of disjointed ideas. Unfortunately this has to be one of the most disappointing books that I’ve read in recent years.

That just leaves me to sign off this blog post by saying, "Happy day".

* This post has been updated to correct the fact that "Raven" was produced by ATV rather than HTV that produced "Children from the Stones" after viewing the Network release of the original series.