Moontrug’s a big fan of feathery chaps in books (Hedwig in Harry Potter, Kes in A Kestrel for a Knave, the white pigeon in The Last Wild), but recently Moontrug came across a feathered friend who totally topped the list: Edgar the raven, the self-appointed Guardian of the Otherhands, in Marcus Sedgwick’s Flood and Fang (the first in his 8-12 years Raven Mysteries series). Edgar becomes alarmed when a nasty looking black tail slinks under the rhubarb, kitchen maids go missing and the castle begins to flood. It’s up to him to raise the alarm and rescue the Otherhands from their impending doom…
There is no-one better to tell this story than Edgar, an ageing raven with a craving for respect and attention, but who almost always ends up being misunderstood. He is both brilliantly funny: ‘I hurtled back to earth with a determination to save them all… The monkey, however, could go to hell’ and hopelessly self-obsessed: ‘Forlornly, I fluttered to the floor and began to stalk off down the corridor, striking, I felt, a posture of noble pain.’ Sedgwick captures Edgar’s strivings for recognition in fantastically funny episodes – it’s as much a story about a castle under threat as it is about a raven with a desire to be noticed: ‘I made quite a sight, I dare say…’, ‘flying backwards. That took some wing power, I can tell you,’ ‘ I soared pretty majestically back into the air,’ and ‘after about five minutes my neck really began to ache, and I decided not to die there after all.’
The plot is a corker (think Gothic castle, mysterious flooding, a fanged beast and disappearing servants…) but what Sedgwick does best is set up a truly excellent cast of characters for his series. Take the gorgeously glum Solstice whose poetry is a powerful antidote to insomnia and her most renowned piece is entitled ‘Why Aren’t I Dead?’ She’s a fab companion for Edgar and the two converse amiably in a series of gasps and FUTHORKs. Moontrug also had a lot of time for the aptly-named Cudweed, Solstice’s younger, fatter brother who is ‘fantastically, extraordinarily, amazingly, award-winningly scared, all the time.’ And Edgar’s dislike of Cudweed’s malicious monkey, Fellah, is hilarious. I mean, even Cudweed agrees that ‘nobody likes a sticky monkey.’
And Lord Valevine, head of Otherhand Castle, and inventor of life’s necessities (self-boiling oil, the square wheel, the invisible arrow and, um, sneezing) is fabulously and fantastically dense. Not surprising then that he can’t even remember the name of his gardner. Was it Spatchcock? Satchelpants? Sludgepig? Flood and Fang boasts a rich cast of original characters and a devilishly exciting plot – a must read series for 8-12 years that’s perching, like Edgar would be, up in Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower.