Book Review: Quest, by A. J. Ponder

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_questIt has been a few years now since I felt the indulgent pleasure of reading bedtime stories to my children, having a nightly excuse to become a child again myself, immersed in a world different from that of GrownUp. Escapism, fairy tales, fantasy, magic, a sort of parallel reality to adulting, where all things are seen from a different perspective.

So when I chose this little gem to review, I was secretly wanting to be taken back to the days of magic, the mischief that magicians and sorcerers would get up to, princesses and princes, dragons, silly story lines. And this sure delivered. Reminiscent of The Princess Bride.

In this action packed story Princess Sylvalla does not want to be a princess. She wants to be a hero, to slay dragons, to wield a sword, to break out. And one day she does – she escapes the castle, setting in motion a ‘princess hunt’ which attracts all sorts of dodgy characters, opportunists, wizards, con men, runaways. It is actually hilarious. Some of them even join Sylvalla in her posse to hunt dragons – Jonathon the con man chasing his stolen treasure; his 150 year old father who is also a wizard; Dirk the world’s most deadly swordsman; and Francis, the horse groomer who sees a chance to escape his lowly existence.

The story line is pretty crazy, and the characters are all over the place, but the writing is magnificent. This book is made for reading aloud, it fair rollicks along, a huge vocabulary with marvellous character drawings, funny dialogue and conversations. The best parts though, to encourage fully engaged adult interaction with child, are the footnotes the author has made which are really for adult eyes only. Funny, wicked and sometimes a bit naughty. There is no happy living after in this story either! No handsome prince, no evil witch. So the traditional fairy tale is turned on its head, and I hope to see more of Syvalla’s adventures, because she is well set up to take on more baddies.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Quest (#1 of the Sylvalla Chronicles)
by A. J. Ponder
Published by Phantom Feather Press
ISBN 9780473451073



Book Review: The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel

cv_the_high_mountains_of_portugalAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

This novel is part quest, part philosophy, all allegory; perhaps the broadest insight is into the myriad ways grief and love are manifested and managed.

We begin with Tomas, in Lisbon in the early 20th century. Tomas has lost both the woman he loved, and his young son, to fatal illnesses. He is grieving, and the way in which he shows his loss is by always walking backwards – since looking forward seems to be fruitless. He needs something to distract him, and finds a reference in an old diary (which he has stolen from his employer) to an “artefact” which was created by the diary’s owner, Father Ulisses, in the 17th century. After considerable sleuthing and soul-searching, he decides that it must be in a church in the high mountains of Portugal. So, fortunate in having a wealthy uncle with a fleet of automobiles, he is able to borrow a car and after about half an hour’s instruction sets out on his quest. Mercifully, he drives forwards! His wanderings are most amusing, particularly as many of the villages he passes through have never seen a motorcar and are either terrified or horrified, but rarely fascinated.

He fetches up in a village called Tuizelo, and while his quest is successful, he also comes to terms with his grief through self-realisation and faith.

The second part of the story, in Braganca, revolves around a pathologist and his wife, and amateur theologian. They share a love of Agatha Christie novels, and the wife manages to create a whole theory of the parables of Christ explained through the oeuvre of Agatha Christie. But that is not the only oddity of this part of the story. One of the pathologist’s clients turns up with her dead husband in a suitcase – I shan’t give more away, but it’s the most bizarre piece of writing I have read in a long long time. Of course there is a connection to the village of Tuizelo.

Part three sees an Canadian politician, with Portuguese ancestry, recently widowed, adopting an ape and heading for – you guessed it – the high mountains of Portugal. He ends up in Tuizelo, the same town in which Tomas fetched up.

I don’t wish to spoil the story any further. However I did find myself engaged, revolted, and bewildered much of the time. I THINK I would recommend it if you have read and enjoyed Yann Martel before. However on the strength of this book, I won’t be going to the same author again.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The High Mountains of Portugal
by Yann Martel
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922182814