Wednesday 22 April 2015

Review of Abi Elphinstone's "The Dreamsnatcher"

A review of Abi Elphinstone's 

"The Dream Snatcher" 

by Pippa Wilson

Cover art by Thomas Flintham

Here's what Simon and Schuster's website has to say:

"Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare - the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life. 
Because Moll is more important than she knows… The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher's dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure."

So what did I think?

Endorsed on the front cover by Piers Torday as "Fast paced and full of charm", and further endorsed on the back cover by Katherine Rundell as "An outstanding debut packed with suspense, adventure and heart", you know straight away that "The Dream Snatcher" is going to be more than a bit special. In all truthfulness, it was the gorgeous cover by Thomas Flintham that reeled me in. Before I'd even read the blurb, the irresistible colours grabbed my attention, and I was intrigued by the woodland scene depicted (with Moll's catapult peeking out of her pocket).

The dark and chilling prologue sets a supernatural tone that pervades the whole book. The first thing I noticed at the start of the book is the energy and pace of Abi Elphinstone's storytelling. I felt as if I were whirling through a fast and heady dance; almost floating through the action. As Moll awakens in the "knotted and wild" forest, her recurring nightmare and reality become one, and we are there with her. As a reader the words fell from the page and I quickly became immersed in Moll's world, and immediately cared about her destiny.

As the story unfolded I particularly enjoyed the world of the Romany gypsies, especially the superstitions and folklore, and the traditions that are upheld by the folk in Moll's people. The details of the talismans, old magic, and ceremonies  are robust and convincing, and contribute to the rich and vivid portrayal of Moll's world. What becomes clear is that this book has been written by an author who really values, prizes, the natural world;  Moll's people are closely entwined with the land and wildlife. 

Moll herself is a satisfyingly feisty and flawed protagonist who has always sensed that she is different to the others in her camp. "Wish I didn't have so many cracks...I'm like a smashed-up eggshell, me", she declares near the start of the story. During the course of her adventures she discovers startling new information about her "beginning" and discovers that she has a special path to follow. She travels with a catapult, and isn't afraid to use it. Moll has a particularly imaginative line in insults too. 

She has a close and unique bond with her wildcat guardian, Gryff. Along the way we get to know a colourful cast of fresh characters, my personal favourite being Hard-Times Bob who is "great at dislocating his limbs", yet prone to hiccups. Moll's trusty friend Siddy, who "combined a hopelessly misdirected enthusiasm with very little common sense", has a particular fondness for earthworms, and is a delightfully entertaining character. And Skull the suitably vile and scary villain, is one to fear with his 'mask that looks like bone'. We are intrigued by how Moll can possibly take on this mighty enemy.

Throughout the story the clever balance of magic, lucky charms and folklore form a world where anything can happen, and we are left wondering what will happen next with every step of Moll's journey. I found that it had reminiscent hints of Northern Lights, Harry Potter and the Narnia stories, which may well indicate that this is set to become a modern classic.

As an aspiring author I've  treasured Abi Elphinstone's clarity of her descriptions of the woods and her characters, and the way in which the story unfolds with such unrelenting momentum. In fact, as soon as I had finished reading it, I resolved to start annotating it, and analyse every word in order to pinpoint her magical winning formula! I love the way she depicts each scene so vividly and cinematically to the point that you literally see the story unfolding very visually in your imagination.

My only criticism,however, is that the ending begs an immediate reading of the next book...but we have to wait. How irritating!

And as a bit of a postscript, I'd just like to add that the Acknowledgements at the end are very moving- heartwarming and inspiring stuff!

I hope you all enjoy it too, tell us what you think!

By Pippa Wilson @hellopipski

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