Publish Date: November 14, 2014
Synopsis: Tom Burrow (Tom-Tom to his friends) happens to be 12 years old – in fact, the adventure begins on his 12th birthday when he visits a fairground with his two best friends, Tinker and Tariq. Unfortunately, they are seen by some bullies from their school, and have to run for it! A November mist aids their escape and they find themselves at a shooting gallery, where Tom-Tom spots a prize on a shelf and decides he wants to win it. He pays his money to the man behind the counter, and… (Source: Amazon product description)
Short Version: Not a Harry Potter knockoff. It follows a tradition of the best of British children’s literature, as well as being a great story in its own right.
Longer Version: Whenever I read stuff on my Kindle with an aim to review it, I take notes at various places. They don’t tend to be long or particularly erudite notes, generally “love” “lol” “SPaG”, “ew”, etc. When I took notes for the first volume of The Scrapdragon, I found myself writing the names of various authors: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Enid Blyton (yes, shut up, I love her), Douglas Adams, JM Barrie, Terry Pratchett, Lewis Carroll… and all this in a good “this reminds me a little of them” way, not “this is ripped off!”
This has been likened by at least one reviewer to the Harry Potter series, which was and is a compliment. I don’t know if it’s particularly apt, though, because in reading through it I barely thought of Rowling at all. Yes, it’s a fantasy series that revolves around a group of three children, two boys and a girl. That’s… pretty much the only similarity that leapt out at me.
Anyway, if I want to read the Harry Potter series, I’ll go read the Harry Potter series. If I want to read some Kid Lit I enjoyed more than the Harry Potter series, I’ll read The Scrapdragon series.
Edwards nails the narration style, one that nudges constantly at the fourth wall without become overly cute or preachy. His main character, Tom-Tom Burrows, is an extremely likable kid, being neither a saint nor a brat, and the close third-person point-of-view Edwards uses is excellent for getting inside his head. He’s thoughtful and brave, but he’s still very much twelve years old. The character of his friend Tariq is also drawn nicely. Tariq is a boy who is quiet, inclined to be timid, earnest and “sometimes a bit literal.” Tariq is also an Arabic name, something that exactly nobody points out, which is brilliant. There’s no dull moral lesson about multiculturalism here. Edwards just shows us some kids being friends. The character of Tinker was less fleshed-out, I felt (more on that later.)
There’s loads to love about this book. Said Scrapdragon’s stilted style of speech is lamp-shaded nicely when Tinker repeatedly complains she has no idea what he’s on about, and his bruised dignity is also a lot of fun. The Scrapdragon’s real name is Optimus Draconis Ferric Metallica (Great Dragon Iron Metal, roughly) and these parental bonuses made me giggle throughout – there’s also, among others, a captured Duke named Veritas (truth) and a Duchess named Beneficientia Ardour (Kindness and love. That one turns out to be a doozy!)
And of course, there’s some toilet humour thrown in. Kids love that stuff. Grown-ups don’t always, but it was treated here with enough balance that I was as delighted as your average nine-year-old. Did you ever wonder what Metal Dragon poo looks like? Edwards has that one covered. There’s a terrible incident with some giant worms, and a sort of giant weasel called “Mr Snuffles” for a very disgusting reason.
And then there are grabbits. I won’t spoil what grabbits are, but I sort of want one for a pet now.
My only major stumbling point when reading was the character of Tinker, the girl of the trio known as the ‘Terrible T’s.’ She’s an American tomboy and while her character is as endearing as the others, she feels a little superficial. It seemed obvious to me that Nigel Edwards has been an English boy, but has never been an American girl. (To be fair, I’ve never been an American, either.) Some of the slang and style Tinker uses seems dated, which is unsurprising considering that Edwards has been working on this series for years. And, of course, slang changes so fast that once you commit it to print, it’s become obsolete almost immediately.
I don’t often point out gender issues in books, but I do consider it when I’m reading children’s literature. There’s a great balance in this book, particularly when the children come across married couple, Zander and Zola. When they are considering “questing forward” on a trip to faraway Castletown, this exchange made me grin:
“Who else is coming?” Tariq asked. “You said you’d bring two men with you?”
Zander shook his head. “I said comrades, not men. Zola will accompany us.”
His wife smiled. “Zander and I always deal with important matters together,” she said. “We are a team.”
And when Tinker is disappointed that she’s given a slingshot and not a sword like the boys, Zola builds the girl up and explains all the reasons why slingshots are better than swords, anyway. Definitely meets the Bechdel Test (this is a benchmark in fiction where at least two named female characters have a conversation about something other than a man. You’d be horrified by how many works fail it.)
I did also ponder the book’s target demographic, children aged approximately nine to twelve years. The content and writing style seem perfectly geared toward this, of course. But its format may work against it – I know two lovely girls aged nine and eleven who would probably love this series, but they don’t own Kindles and their parents are leery about letting them read off screens instead of paper. I don’t have kids of my own and have no idea how common those sort of parental feelings are, but it may be that not having a paperback version is excluding some of its potential reader base (which it heartily deserves. If this were published by a Big Important Publishing House and marketed properly, I have zero doubts at all that it would sell.)
Lastly, Edwards has managed to achieve what I thought would be impossible – create sympathy and warmth in me toward a character who is a spider. I’m deeply arachnophobic, so you can imagine my surprise at how genuinely moved I was. I won’t spoil the last lines in this volume, but they are beautiful, and you should definitely read them for yourself.