The strangeness of libraries

July 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

The CornerstoneThe Cornerstone – Nick Spalding
Pub. Racket Publishing
Paperback £10.13 ($13.99) ISBN 9781461198215
Kindle £0.49 ($2.99)

Books are weird, have you noticed? That’s what makes booksellers a bit odd.

Fortunately Max has only read three in his entire life, not counting the Haynes Austin Montego Workshop Manual. Then the bored teenage hero of Nick Spalding’s engaging fantasy takes shelter from the rain in his local library, where he discovers that some books are doorways into other worlds. No, this is not a metaphor.

I would put money on Spalding being a Terry Pratchett fan. He scoops up several key ideas from Discworld metaphysics – the multiverse, the trouser legs of time, the essential strangeness of libraries – and puts them to good use. But he successfully avoids any suggestion that he is copying the Master. Spalding’s Chapter Lands are a long way from Ankh-Morpork. There are no dwarves or trolls, and while there is a slight air of mediaevalism about them, the furniture comes from Ikea.

The Cornerstone has more in common with Pratchett’s series for younger readers (Johnny and the Bomb, Johnny and the Dead, Only You can Save the World). Spalding is interested in the same surreal collision of fantasy with the down-to-earth demands of life in a modern provincial town. What is likely to happen when the showdown between the leather-clad, demon-possessed warrior and the librarian-guardian of Earth takes place in your mum’s back garden? The answer involves rotary clothes lines.

A thoroughly enjoyable book. Not long – I read it at a sitting, but that speaks for itself.

Quibbles? Very few, and all trivial.

I did think that the age given for Max (17) was about three years too old, both for the character and for the readers who are likely to enjoy this book most. Do 17-year-olds blush when they kiss the damsel in distress? Not any more, I suspect. As far as I remember, Pratchett wisely avoids mentioning exactly how old Johnny is – along with Max he occupies a no-man’s-land: old enough for insight, young enough to be bossed around.

If Spalding writes a sequel – as I hope he will – he might be a little more severe in cutting the colloquialism of the narrative style. The opening sentence is a good example:

It was, for all intents and purposes, the perfect day to visit the library.

You can see the tone he is aiming at, but for all intents and purposes is a bit of flannel which adds nothing. This sort of thing can easily become an irritating habit.

And please, please do something about the greengrocer’s apostrophe’s.

The Cornerstone Amazon (UK) Amazon (US)

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