Rumblestar and Everdark

Abi Elphinstone

A treat for fans of adventure, fantasy worlds and unlikely heroes. These are fast paced and inventive stories written with energy and humour. In Rumblestar and its World Book Day prequel, Everdark, we learn that the accepted version of the world coming into being through the Big Bang is one more thing (alongside bedtimes and vegetables) that grown ups have got all wrong. Our continents are instead the seven tears of a Phoenix and known as the Faraway and sustained by the secret Unmapped Kingdoms of Rumblestar, Crackledawn, Jungledrop and Silvercrag which are formed out of four golden phoenix feathers.  Each Kingdom generates its own marvels – Crackledawn, sunshine; Jungledrop, rain; Silvercrag, snow – which are collected by the Unmappers of Rumblestar to write weather scrolls sent to the Faraway as part of a carefully balanced magical ecosystem that sustains life and light in both the Unmapped Kingdoms and the Faraway. This delicate balance is put in danger when the harpy Morag sabotages the Phoenix’s rebirth providing the opportunity for some unlikely heroes and friendships to emerge and defend the kingdoms.

As with Elphinstone’s previous books, Skysong and The Dreamsnatcher trilogy, the Unmapped Kingdoms are carefully and powerfully drawn.  She has talked about how she literally maps out her stories and the worlds they inhabit, drawing the landscapes and her characters’ paths through them.  That really shows here.  Although complicated, the story is never lost in the explanation of the worlds – we are drawn through them by the journeys and quests the characters must complete.  Her characters aren’t obvious heroes, Smudge is dyslexic and mocked by her peers for her failures at school, Caspar is anxious, lonely and bullied, and Utterly Thankless holds the anger and grief inside her which explodes out in unpredictable ways, but as she says ‘the truly extraordinary people in this world – the ones who defeat monsters and save kingdoms – are, very often, the ones that nobody notices at first‘.

Rumblestar is funnier than her earlier books with witty asides and word play, which reminded me of the Phantom Tollbooth.  There are references to CS Lewis in the text and echos of Narnia in the world building.  It doesn’t have Narnia’s religious overtones but there are strong themes around the value of friendship and believing in yourself, facing up to fears and persisting, and learning how to say sorry and how to accept an apology (if I had one niggle – and it is a small one – it would be that these are sometimes spelled out more explicitly than needed). The next book in The Unmapped Chronicles will be about Jungledrop and is due out in 2020.  Although each book in the series is going to be linked (the evil Morag features in all of them and there will be some minor crossover of characters) they are also designed to stand alone.

These would be great class books, with lots of cliffhanger endings to chapters and ideas to explore further. Everdark stands on its own and is short enough to read and see if there is an appetite for more. There is a scheme of work for schools on Elphinstone’s website and some excellent resources on Authorfy  where Elphinstone discusses the inspiration behind the book, how she wrote it and what is planned for the series.

I am looking forward to the next one…