Devoted readers of the Unmapped Chronicles, of whom I am one, have become accustomed to the detailed and whimsical introduction to each new book in the series. Its presence at the start of The Crackledawn Dragon, means that this book can be read and enjoyed as a standalone although it is the conclusion to the series. Fortunately, Abi Elphinstone is not one of the grown-ups who she tells us are “far too busy to believe in magic.” She doesn’t just believe in it, she creates it with abandon, infuses it with wisdom and wonder and spins it into gloriously enchanting stories which leave a glow of pure delight when read.
Zebedee Bolt is the hero of this plot, a boy with three remarkable talents; running away from foster families, succumbing to spectacularly drenching outbursts of sobbing and a natural flair for music! Although he would like to emulate his hero, a TV survival expert known as The Tank, it seems unlikely that this dream will be realised. As we meet him at the start of the story he has run away from his latest foster parents, the Orderly-Queues (yes, the witty names are here in abundance) and is hiding out in an abandoned New York theatre when a kind social worker ( who fans will recognise from Jungledrop) finds him and reassures him that: “One day you will realise that you matter.”
Unfortunately, Morg the evil harpy is also hiding out under the theatre and uses her wily cunning to manipulate Zeb into bringing her the remaining Phoenix tears which will supply the magic she needs to break into the kingdom of Crackledawn. The insidious power of false promises and the deals that individuals can make with themselves to justify their actions or even inaction in the face of wrongdoing is very subtly explored through the interaction of Morg and Zeb during the first part of the story.
Once they burst into Crackledawn, readers are propelled through the sparkling blue waters on the deck of Darktongue, Morg’s ship of shadows. Zeb discovers that his mission is to ride on Morg’s bone dragon all the way to the sun, protected only by the Stargold Wings, to retrieve the lost Ember Scroll so that Morg can write herself into permanent power over the Unmapped Kingdoms. When this plan goes awry, Zeb is rescued by a young Sunraider called Oonie, whose blindness has made her fearsomely independent as she sails the waters of Crackledawn aboard the enchanted dhow, The Kerfuffle. I will not give away any more plot details as readers will want to discover the story for themselves. Suffice to say that the twists and turns leave you breathless as you marvel at the array of magical creatures; in this case I was most taken with a hurtle turtle, which I would love to employ to do my own housework! As always the names sparkle with invention, my favourites in this book being an exuberantly maternal chameleon named Mrs Fickletint, closely followed by the merglimmer, Perpetual Faff! Oh, and there is humour in abundance, with laugh out loud moments to lighten the tension, such as Mrs Fickletint scolding Dollop the goblin for his suggestion of treetop yoga when the end of the world is imminent!
Abi is such a brilliant writer. You can tell that she totally understands children’s yearning for fantastical adventures, and this she conjures with great panache. On top of this she layers validation, reassurance and love; her characters exhibit flaws and doubts but learn the power of trust and friendship throughout the arc of the story. Then into this already heady mix she stirs in contemporary themes; most obviously the environmental crisis and more subtly, the way in which those with disappointed hopes can be taken in by the empty promises of individuals who wish to use them for their own nefarious purposes. Most of all, it is a story, like an unopenable purse… filled with hope.
I am grateful to Simon & Schuster for allowing me access to an electronic version of the book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have subsequently purchased a physical copy and highly recommend this book to everyone of 9+.
If you have not already read them, I do encourage you to read the other books in the series: