Kids who can change into animals, and who owe loyalty to rival kingdoms; a secret school where children are educated in magical combat; a powerful artefact whose missing pieces must be assembled for the weapon to be either deployed or destroyed. Individually, the elements of the first book in the Simon Thorn series may not be spectacularly original – but Aimee Carter has combined them to create a book with impressive, stick-to-your-fingers readability. I devoured it on several Tube journeys, happily impervious to the sweaty misery of the rush-hour crowds, and rushed back more than once to retrieve it when I realised I’d left it on the kitchen table.
Fatherless Simon lives in a tiny New York apartment. He’s bullied at school, his mother is always away, and his uncle Darryl, who looks after him, hates wildlife and tells Simon off for talking to animals – but Simon really can talk to them, although pigeons tend only to say ‘Food?’ One day, a river of rats invades their apartment, wounding and carrying away Simon’s mother, and he discovers that he, his mum and Darryl are all Animalgams: humans with the power to change into other creatures’ shape.
The five kingdoms of the Animalgams, however, have long been at war – and the Alpha of the mammal kingdom now commands the loyalty of the reptiles, the insects and the fish against Orion, the golden-eagle King of the Birds. To get his mother back, Simon the Hybred, half-mammal and half-bird, must infiltrate the Animalgam Academy under Central Park Zoo, and discover where the mammals are hiding her. But, in doing so, he’ll discover more about himself, his family and his friends than he has bargained for – not to mention the mysterious Sceptre of the Beast King…
This is a pacey, thrilling MG fantasy, a bento box of fantasy tropes and unceasing action. Pink-haired girls who change into black widows, hereditary magic with unexpected manifestations, jovial dolphin boys and sarcastic snakes – it’s all here, handled with assurance and swift-moving verve. Simon is, at times, a little too heroic, gungho and forgiving to be entirely convincing, but he’s a thoroughly likeable hero nonetheless. Ideal for those who like their fantasy fast-paced, engaging and checking all the classic boxes.