Agent Zaiba Investigates #4: The Smuggler’s Secret – Annabelle Sami

Illustrations – Daniela Sosa

The History Club are going on an excursion to Chesil Bay. There they’ll be doing their best to avoid seasickness as they travel by glass-bottom boat to see a sunken shipwreck. They’ll also get to witness the unveiling of the priceless artefact that was recovered from the ship.

Because the entire UK branch of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency will be in attendance, there’s bound to be a mystery or two to solve. 

Major crime to investigate. Agents assemble! 

Zaiba, her best friend Poppy, younger brother Ali and cousin Mariam, an honorary Snow Leopard member, are ready to follow Eden Lockett’s Golden Rules to find the clues, figure out the motive and capture the culprit.

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I love that there’s an Eden Lockett book that’s relevant to every investigation the Snow Leopards take on. The tips Zaiba finds in both the text and her mother’s handwritten notes are often vital to moving her own investigation along. In this book, it’s The Cottage on the Cliff

Zaiba’s habit of verbalising her observations helps me picture each scene, assisting me in solving the mystery alongside her.

There’s bonus content at the end of this book, including Eden Lockett’s Golden Rules, an extract from the Eden Lockett book Zaiba references and information about smugglers.

The only Golden Rule that gives me pause is #6: 

When you have to cover a lot of ground, split up and spread out. 

It works well for this series but whenever I come across it my brain sends me Horror 101 warnings, which are definitely not applicable here.

I must be really getting into the spirit of things. As new people were introduced, I didn’t view them as characters to get to know; I saw them as potential suspects I’d need to observe now and perhaps interrogate later.

I really hope a future investigation involves Zaiba teaming up with Aunt Fouzia, the best detective in Pakistan, to solve the mystery of Zaiba’s missing mother. I’d love for them to find her. 

Stay ready. Mystery is always around the corner. 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Determined to be the world’s greatest detective, Zaiba is always on the lookout for a crime to solve!

Zaiba is excited to visit an historical shipwreck and attend the reveal of its mystery cargo! But the big event is ruined when the priceless artefact goes missing. With stories of smuggling rooted in the seaside town’s past, Zaiba’s investigative instincts are buzzing. Will she and her team be able to uncover the coast’s secrets and find the treasure before it’s lost again forever?

The fourth book in a fun, fresh and exciting new detective series, for readers not quite ready for Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine, High Rise Mystery and Nancy Drew.

Mort the Meek #2: Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest – Rachel Delahaye

Illustrations – George Ermos

You survived your first trip to Brutalia, an island that’s just as brutal as its name advertises. There are Grot Bears, who are as likely to squeeze you to death as they are to rip you to shreds. There are hungry ravens, who are always on the lookout for some tasty eyeballs. There’s the stench. And if all of that isn’t punishment enough for you, make sure you stick around for Punishment of the Day. 

Now that you’ve been reminded of what a terrible place Brutalia is, why would you voluntarily return? 

Is it because of Mort, the loveable pacifist who is so good at recruitment that the Pacifist Society of Brutalia has recently increased its membership by 50%? (There are now 1.5 members.)

Is it your fascination with the Queen’s fashion sense? Tarantula leg eyelashes are not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.

Is it the promise of a gigantic sea monster? It’s the sea monster, isn’t it.

Mort has an excuse to escape the confines of his horrid island home so it’s no surprise that he takes it. It’s time to set sail for the Salty Sea. We’re going on a treasure hunt. 

Bonus points for Mort if he finds his father and siblings, Gosh and Gee, who have been missing at sea for two weeks.

I missed Ono, who I’d hoped would be joining Mort for this adventure. However, I quickly grew to love Punky, the daughter of a rock crusher who is as tough as nails. Like the ones that make up her face piercings. 

This is a “story riddled with suckers”, with so many whys it could rival a toddler on a good day. Oh, and it’s prodadly important to rememder that d’s and b’s are interchangeadle. 

Taking over from the chatty ravens who introduced each chapter of the first book are Larry and Bruce, lobsters who have somehow managed to avoid the dinner table thus far. I initially missed the ravens but Larry and Bruce are also entertaining, mishearing and misinterpreting all manner of topics. 

“Bored, bored, bored.”

“To pass the time, shall we have a go at some good insults?”

“Okay, I’ll start: chips.”

“What do you mean, chips?”

“Good in salt.”

“Forget it.” 

George Ermos’ illustrations once again highlight the danger and drudgery, as well as the humour and hope. Wait. Hope? Are you sure that belongs in this book?

I particularly loved the expressive lobsters and the fearsome sea monster.

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Does it sound like a threat if I say that if there’s not a third book in this series I will be having conversations with the Queen about a suitable Punishment of the Day? I must have spent too much time in Brutalia; I’m starting to sound like a local.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

P.S. Readers with emetophobia, beware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Around the unfriendly, rocky island of Brutalia, the waves are awash with brave sea-farers, on a treasure hunt for their demanding queen. Among them is Mort, but rather than hunt for treasure, he’s more interested in looking for his family who are lost at sea. Unfortunately, his shipmate Punky has her eyes firmly on the prize.
But when the pair find the tentacle of a mythical sea creature, their adventure takes a dramatic turn. Is this the prize-winning treasure Punky and the queen seek? Or could it be a monstrous twist in Mort’s rescue mission?

Mike Falls Up – Candy Gourlay

Illustrations – Carles Ballesteros

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

On a day where it’s too hot to do much of anything, Mike and Bowow, his dog, are sitting on a hill. Suddenly there’s an earthquake and a hole appears in the ground. After Bowow jumps into the hole, a note appears. 

Birthday.

Come now.

Just fall up. 

Mike doesn’t know whose birthday it is and he certainly doesn’t know how to fall up, but he does know he needs to find his dog. 

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What follows is a birthday party with a difference.

I thought I was the target audience for all children’s books, even though I haven’t been a kid since last century. This one just didn’t work for me, though. Confused, I asked someone else who loves kid’s books to read it for me. It didn’t work for them either. 

If a kid reading this book asked me questions about it I’d probably have to make up the answers as it wasn’t especially clear to me why different things were happening. I want to know why travelling between places makes the kids fall asleep, why Mike didn’t come across Bowow when he fell from the Chocolate Hills to London and how the kids didn’t get soot on them from travelling via a fireplace, amongst other things.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A range of simple stories for new readers, with beautiful colour illustrations.

Mike and his dog Bowow are relaxing in the Chocolate Hills when the ground starts to tremble and the next moment a gaping hole appears. Before Mike can stop him, Bowow jumps into the hole. Then a note floats up…

Party.

Come now.

Just fall up.

There’s no time to wonder what it means – Mike jumps in and falls into the most topsy-turvy of adventures.

A joyous story celebrating the power of unexpected friendships by award-winning author Candy Gourlay, beautifully brought to life with stunning illustrations by Carles Ballesteros.

Diary of an Accidental Witch – Perdita & Honor Cargill

Illustrations – Katie Saunders

“It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you end up that counts”

Eleven year old Bea Black has just moved to Little Spellshire, UK (AKA, the middle of nowhere) with her father, a weather scientist. She’s supposed to be attending Spellshire Academy with Ashkan (Ash), her new next door neighbour and only friend, but Bea’s father accidentally enrolled her in Spellshire’s other school.

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The Spellshire School for Extraordinary Arts is a school like no other, where physics involves levitation, English is “Incantations and the Language of Spells” and sport involves broomsticks.

“HARD WORK AND FOCUS and you’ll be flying in no time! Flying – hahaha! But remember: don’t tell a soul. Those of us who know, know and those of them who don’t, can’t.”

Bea, who is Ordinary, spends most of her breaks hiding in the broom cupboard with Stan the frog. She can’t wait for her father to finally arrange her transfer to the school she’s supposed to be attending. Until then, try as she might, Bea fails “TRAGICALLY at all things witchy”.

I really enjoyed this book and am trying to figure out how I can enrol myself in this school. Beside the whole witch thing and the opportunity to perfect spells, I’m always in favour of having legitimate excuses to wear a cape.

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Be on the lookout for bats on a sugar high and spiders who can weave pictures. I definitely need to master the “hair-colour-changing trick spell”.

Best homework assignment ever:

Make a model of a medieval witch castle including potion laboratory, high walls for protection from Ordinaries, magical moat, Great Banqueting Hall and broomstick landing pad.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little Tiger Group, an imprint of Stripes Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book. I’m looking forward to continuing this series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Monday 20th September

I’M AT WITCH SCHOOL! Now would be a really good time to discover I can do magic…

Bea Black has just moved to Little Spellshire, a town with a magical secret. When her dad accidentally enrols her at the local witch school, she has to get to grips with some interesting new classes, like, NOW! Also on her to do list? Make friends, look after the grumpy class frog AND do everything humanly magically possible to stay on a broom…

But with the Halloween Ball on the horizon, will she be able to master her wand skills in time to WOW? And more importantly can she keep her newfound magical abilities a secret from dad?

Savage Island #2: Cruel Castle – Bryony Pearce

It’s been six months since the Iron Teen Tragedy, something that readers of Savage Island will immediately recognise as PR spin. Only Grady, Ben and Lizzie know the truth about what really happened on Aikenhead, Marcus Gold’s private island.

While Ben and Lizzie have been in hiding from Gold, Grady has been working for him. For the past four months he’s been one of the participants in Gold’s graduate programme in London. When he learns he’s being sent on a team building weekend at Stowerling Keep, Gold’s castle in Scotland, Grady knows this won’t be any ordinary team building exercise. He is certain it’s going to be Aikenhead 2.0.

Stowerling Keep. It’s going to make Aikenhead look like Disneyland.

Accompanying conspiracy theorist Grady on this potential bloodbath are several of his fellow graduates:

  • Aanay, who seems too nice to have made it into Gold’s graduate programme
  • Bella, a girl who uses her looks to manipulate others into doing her bidding
  • Dawson, one of the “clones”, who won’t let anyone see what he’s written in the notebook he carries in his trouser pocket
  • Iris, who doesn’t talk to anyone.

Of course, Ben and Lizzie aren’t going to let an opportunity to expose Gold’s nefarious deeds to the world go to waste. They may not have received a personal invitation from Gold to come to Stowerling Keep but that’s why infiltration was invented.

Savage Island was one of my favourite reads of 2018 and while many books I’ve read since then are now pretty fuzzy in my mind, my memory of it remains sharp. If I had to describe it in three words, it would be Survivor: Psychopath Edition. It felt fresh. It surprised me. I didn’t know where it was going. I’m all for gore in my horror and it gave me some “ew!” moments. I absolutely adored it!

Naturally, I was all in when I learned there was a sequel. I enjoyed it but it didn’t pack the punch of the original for me. In horror sequels I expect the body count to be higher, the deaths to be more gruesome and the twists to just keep on coming.

This sequel plays out in a series of escape rooms, which I’ve seen done so many times now, and for it to have given me the wow factor of the first book it would have needed to up the ante in a massive way. There is plenty of blood to paint the walls with, there’s bone crunching and some insides that are now your outsides action to look forward to but it felt somewhat tame to me when I compared it with Savage Island.

Told in four voices, Ben, Lizzie, Grady and another whose name I won’t mention because spoilers, I got a sense of what everyone’s state of mind was as we progressed through the ‘team building’. Switching up the perspectives also helped to propel the story along and provided opportunities for flashbacks to help explain the relevant backstories.

While I liked being able to get inside Grady’s head, I never really bought what was going on with Ben. If I hadn’t already encountered that explanation multiple times before, in books and movies, then it might have made sense to me but I’ve seen it done too many times (and usually not well) so I wasn’t as receptive to it here. This probably won’t be a problem for younger readers, who won’t have come across this or escape rooms as many times as I have.

It probably sounds like I didn’t have fun reading this book. I did, though, and I’m really looking forward to reading more books by this author. If anything, because I loved Savage Island so much, my expectations for this book may have been unreasonably high.

If a third book in the series is ever written, I’ll be there at the front of the queue to read it. I’d just hoped this book would be completely over the top (in a good way) like the first book was.

I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA horror. For context, though, and to understand what the three main characters have already survived, you’ll want to read Savage Island first.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

They thought the island was the end. It was only the beginning…

Having survived the horrors of Savage Island, Grady is now stuck working for Gold, the psychopath who masterminded the gruesome competition. Sent on a “team-building exercise” in a remote castle, he starts to plot his escape.

Ben and Lizzie are in hiding, presumed dead after escaping the island. If they’re ever to return to their families, they need to bring Gold down. So they secretly join Grady in the castle. But as the doors slam shut and the series of deadly challenges between them and freedom are revealed, it looks like history is going to repeat itself…

A Red Eye horror novel for teens, this gripping sequel to Savage Island is full of fast-paced action and gruesome twists and turns. 

Skyborn – Sinéad O’Hart

Bastjan has been raised in the circus. His mother, who was the star of the show, died while performing her act. Since then he’s been reliant upon his found family, the other performers. When the ringmaster (boo!) makes a deal with a stranger, Dr Bauer (BOO!), Bastjan’s life becomes much more complicated.

I absolutely loved Sinéad O’Hart’s The Star-Spun Web so had expected to adore Bastjan’s story as well. Don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy it, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I’d hoped.

I think this could be a case of bad timing as I’m in a bit of a reading slump at the moment. I’m also wondering if it might have made a difference if I’d read The Eye of the North first.

You see, Skyborn is the prequel to The Eye of the North, something I didn’t know about until after I finished Skyborn. Some things make more sense to me now, including why both the story itself and many of its characters seemed to be hovering around a neon sign at the end that said, ‘To be continued…’.

From the reviews I’ve read, readers loved The Eye of the North and have been delighted to delve into Bastjan’s backstory. Without having read that, I found myself more interested in Alice’s story in Skyborn and am disappointed with where we left her. I’m hoping her story will continue in The Eye of the North.

I did like Bastjan and really liked Crake, a strongman with a heart of gold, but Alice and her protective dog, Ware, stole the show for me. I want to learn more about Dawara, the Silent City and the Tunnellers.

I would be interested in rereading this book once I’ve read The Eye of the North to see if that helps me get caught up in the magic.

Content warnings include emotional abuse, physical abuse and verbal abuse.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer.

In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realises it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

Me and the Robbersons – Siri Kolu

Translator – Ruth Urbom

“Robbing’s our thing. That’s what we know how to do.”

Maisie is kidnapped on the way to visiting her Grandma. This might sound like the beginning of a traumatic experience for Maisie but it turns out to be just the adventure she’s been looking for during the summer holidays.

But this is no ordinary kidnapping; Maisie is stolen from the family’s car in front of her parents and older sister. And these are no ordinary kidnappers; the Robbersons are a family of bandits.

Wild Karl is the chief bandit and his wife, Hilda, is a reckless but enthusiastic driver and champion cook. They have two children: nine year old Charlie and twelve year old Hellie. Charlie wants to attend school, whereas Hellie embraces the bandit lifestyle completely. Hellie (my favourite character) is good at everything, although repurposing Barbie dolls is one of her specialties. Golden Pete, a friend of the Robbersons, is loyal to Wild Karl.

As a hijacked person, Maisie quickly learns all about the various ways to get the best loot. She also becomes part of the family, using initiative to come up with new ways of doing things. She knows that she’ll need to return home at some point but she’s not ready yet.

I was their prisoner, the loot from a robbery, and so I tried to look glum. Whenever I remembered.

Sweets are mentioned so much in this book that it’s possible you’ll get a sugar high just from reading. Kids will love the freedoms enjoyed by this family, who eat what they want when they want, can decide to go swimming on the spur of the moment and don’t have to do anything routine or normal, like work or attend school.

I found Maisie’s response to her kidnapping quite implausible. I can’t imagine a ten year old who wouldn’t be traumatised by being taken from their family by a bunch of strangers. The fact that Maisie didn’t even seem to miss her family and treated her kidnapping like a fun adventure added to this unreality. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t supposed to be taking any of this seriously. As a kid I would have simply been along for the ride, no questions asked.

This book, the first in a series, has been translated from Finnish. I want to know how Golden Pete became involved with the Robbersons. I’m assuming this will be mentioned later in the series. I’d like to spend more time with the other bandit clans. I’m interested in reading the next book to see what’s next for Maisie and the Robbersons.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A madcap adventure starring a bandit family, a LOT of sweets and a girl who is ready for anything… 

Maisie is convinced her summer holiday is going to be as boring as ever – until she’s snatched by the Robbersons, a bunch of bandits with an insatiable appetite for sweets! Soon Maisie realises that life on the open road with the Robbersons is just the adventure she has always longed for. They’ve even started to see her as one of the gang! So when she discovers that the police and her parents are hot on their trail, Maisie decides she isn’t quite ready to be rescued…

A fresh and fun story about what it really means to escape, Me and the Robbersons is perfect for fans of Roald Dahl, Danny Wallace’s Hamish series and The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates.

Between Sea and Sky – Nicola Penfold

Somewhere, between the sea and the sky, there are other places.

Pearl and Clover live with their father on the oyster farm. Clover yearns to go to school but Pearl is determined to never step foot on land again, certain the land’s poisons were responsible for her mother’s death. Pearl and Clover are keeping a big secret, one that will tear their family apart if anyone ever finds out.

Nat lives on the land with his mother, a science advisor who works hard to provide for her son. Nat enjoys playing with his friends but is always careful not to get caught doing anything that will accumulate civil disobedience points for his mother. The constant threat of peacekeepers and the visual reminder of the prison ship keep the people on the land in line.

“You don’t know what it’s like, living there,” he’d said quietly, gazing back to land. “Some rules are hard to keep.”

Nat doesn’t want to stay at the oyster farm with his mother this summer and Pearl definitely doesn’t want “landlubbers” intruding on their lives but it’s the beginning of something new. Nat has his own secret, one that could change everything.

I couldn’t help comparing this book with the author’s debut, Where the World Turns Wild. Both feature worlds that ours could easily begin to resemble in the not too distant future if we don’t take climate change seriously.

My biggest delight came when I realised that the names of the characters in both books have been so carefully and cleverly chosen. There are some names in this book that foreshadow a character’s role or something about their personality. However, the ones that really stood out to me were those I could easily align with elements, which are a vital part of this story. For example, Sora is a Japanese name that means ‘sky’.

Water is the sea all around us. Earth the poisoned land. Air’s the sky where the gulls fly.

Fire is the Decline. Here it was floods and the rising storm water, but elsewhere it was fire. The world got too hot. Fire burned forests and villages, whole cities too.

Spirit is everything that was lost.

The only thing I adored in Where the World Turns Wild that I missed in this book was a connection to a special adult. I love Annie Rose from Where the World Turns Wild as much now as I did the day I met her. While I liked many of the adult characters in this book there wasn’t someone that I got to know well enough to want to spend all of my time with. The closest I came was with Olive but, for reasons that will become clear as you read the book, she wasn’t ever going to be as knowable as Annie Rose was.

Kate Forrester, whose cover image was what initially drew me to Where the World Turns Wild, has also designed this cover. The details will all mean something to you once you’ve finished reading.

“But if people don’t try, things won’t ever change, will they?”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a near future where a series of environmental disasters has left much of the country underwater, Pearl lives on a floating oyster farm with her father and younger sister, Clover. Following her mum’s death several years earlier, Pearl refuses to set foot on land, believing her illness was caused by the poisons in the ground. Meanwhile, Clover dreams of school, friends and a normal life.

Then Nat comes to spend the summer at the sea farm while his scientist mum conducts some experiments. Leaving behind the mainland, with its strict rules and regulations, he brings with him a secret. But when the sisters promise to keep his secret safe, little do they realise that they may be risking everything…

How To Be a Human – Karen McCombie

“It was ALIENS! I watched them out of my bedroom window!”

This is a heartwarming story of what happens when a boy from another world meets two aliens from Earth.

Star Boy has taught himself some of Earth’s languages and has learned some things about its inhabitants from the Master but he’s never had the opportunity to observe them this closely before.

Kiki has a new group of friends at Riverside Academy. She loves being part of the Popular Crew but she feels bad about ditching her old friends.

Wes used to be homeschooled and doesn’t fit in at Riverside Academy. Although he hasn’t made any friends yet, the bullies have definitely noticed him.

Together these two lonely humans and Star Boy will learn what it means to be human, the wonders that exist all around us and the value of friendship. I adored Star Boy, whose enthusiasm for all things Earth could very well make you see the things you take for granted in a whole new light. I’m certain that it’s no coincidence that he has three hearts.

Although adult me found this story very predictable, I stilled smiled every time Star Boy encountered some new reason to be joyful. Kid me would have been enthralled, no doubt searching the skies for a new alien friend. Both me’s are hoping for a sequel.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Who said friends have to match to matter?

When the Star Boy’s space-pod crashes in the grounds of Fairfield Academy he knows he must seek shelter. Taking refuge in the school’s boiler room to await rescue he discovers that the room’s small window is the perfect place to watch humans go by.

The Star Boy knows about humans from his Earth lessons but no one from his planet has ever studied them up close. Now he has the perfect opportunity. There are two humans in particular that catch his attention – a boy called Wes and a girl named Kiki. But as his curiosity grows so does his courage and, making a momentous decision, the Star Boy follows Wes and Kiki into class … and into their lives.

A warm and otherworldly story about finding friendship in the most unlikely of places, for fans of Tamsin Winter, Cath Howe and Ross Welford.

Mort the Meek #1: Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge – Rachel Delahaye

Illustrations – George Ermos

Here we are in Brutalia, where there are two towers, both of which look like they could come crashing down into the Salty Sea at any moment.

The Queen and King were horrible.

The people were violent.

And the ravens were ravenous.

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As the sign tells you in no uncertain terms, you are not welcome here. Not that it’s a place you’d want to go on vacation; the people are perpetually hungry, rule breakers suffer unimaginable punishments (like wasp baths) and then there’s Brutalia’s motto:

LIVE OR DIE

Trust me when I say you’re more likely to die than live if you’re foolish enough to visit. There’s so much death here that there’s an official Body Carrier. And a Body Lugger. I doubt you would want either job.

So why do we want to hear any more about this horrific place? Well, because it’s where Mort lives. This is Mort.

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He’s got a lot on his mind this week. Mort is a pacifist, which is sort of inconvenient, especially considering he’s Brutalia’s new Royal Executioner. His first job is to execute his “most delicious-smelling friend”, Weed.

And so the plot thickens.

This was a delightful story. Well, as delightful as it could be with everyone hungry and fearing for their lives, and the ravens hoping that someone will give them some eyeballs for dinner.

This is a place where a misunderstood homonym can kill you, where there’s battle cutlery and you need to be extremely careful if you encounter a Grot Bear. It’s also a place where a pacifist will try to save his best friend (and himself) from a death most brutal. Mort is an underdog I believe in and want to spend more time with.

The ravens stoles the best lines, although I’m sure they would have much preferred to have stolen some food. Their chats at the beginning of each chapter were something I quickly looked forward to.

“I’ve got an idea.”

“Can I have some of your eye, dear?”

“What? No! I said an IDEA.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve forgotten it now.”

Sometimes I find it annoying when the narrator randomly addresses the reader throughout the story but it wasn’t overdone here and it even managed to elicit some smiles from me.

Doesn’t time go fast when you’re watching other people struggle with a difficult plot!

I loved George Ermos’ illustrations. They were dark when they needed to be (they wouldn’t have scared me if I’d read this book as a kid). They also incorporated some humour, particularly when the ravens, who were my favourite characters, were featured. I thought using feathers as page breaks was a really nice touch.

There’s going to be a sequel, The Monstrous Quest.

“Well, thank the gallows for that!”

It has tentacles and it looks as though Ono, Mort’s new friend who I haven’t had anywhere near enough page time with yet, is going to be involved in the quest. I can’t wait!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The first in a wickedly funny new series about an aspiring pacifist in a brutal kingdom!

On Brutalia, violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully. His struggle is made even tougher when the cruel queen appoints Mort as Royal Executioner. No one has challenged the royals and lived to tell the tale. Can Mort keep his head and outwit the queen?