This is a medium-length novel about the scramble for the magical egg of the Malamander, a fearsome sea-monster. The author, Thomas Taylor, was originally a picture-book illustrator before he began actually writing for children, and his visual imagination makes the setting for his story – the old part of his own town of Hastings – particularly vivid. In addition, the book positively reeks of the slimy, strong-smelling, seaweedy aspect of the seaside – which I found strangely compelling in its repulsiveness!
The story is of two parentless children and their quest for the Malamander’s magical egg, which is only laid on a particular winter’s night once a year and is then devoured by the monster after the non-appearance of its mate. The thing about the egg is that it can grant you your dearest wish, and that’s why there’s a scramble for it, principally by the stock villain Sebastian Eels and the mysterious Boathook Man.
If your children love a fast-paced, zany, fantasy read mixed with a little element of sci-fi and a lot of detective work, then this is the book for them. Thomas Taylor doesn’t give his array of characters much depth, but they are certainly colourful and quirky, from Erwin the talking cat, to Mrs Fossil the beachcomber, and the reclusive Lady Kraken with her all-seeing cameraluna. Add to this a mechanical mermonkey which dispenses the right book to the right person, a ghost who comes out of a tap, and a mystery surrounding a pair of missing parents, and you will appreciate the book’s appeal as an intriguing and fun read. However, the climax of the story, ingeniously played out in twists and turns in the hulk of an old wrecked ship, describes a genuinely gripping struggle, and a major character expresses some serious thoughts about the uses of power.
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