All is not well at StregaSchloss, home of the bizarre but lovable Strega-Borgia clan. Mum’s attempts to improve her witchcraft skills are failing miserably. Dad has stormed out in a fit of pique. Titus is virtually umbilically attached to his computer. Pandora is seriously bored. And Baby Damp is getting her fat little fingers into everything around.
I was waiting eagerly for an order of books when a package was delivered on Friday. Excitedly, I tore into the package to find two of the three books as expected. The third, however, was not a copy of the book I had ordered, but this children’s book. Mildly amused, and after sending an email to the Amazon seller to request the book I had ordered, I decided ‘waste not, want not’ and gave it a read anyway. After all, it is a children’s book with 200 pages and relatively large font – it took no time at all.
- This book made me reminisce of childhood literature. I enjoyed reading it, even if my enjoyment was not for the book itself, but for the thoughts of all those similar books I enjoyed when I was ten. This is a very typical children’s book, and evoked many memories.
- The book begins with a quest to hire a nanny to look after our child protagonists. Said nanny, Flora McLachlan, is a very entertaining character. She was funny, witty and slightly sarcastic, and I would have loved reading about her when I was a child.
- This book has everything you want in a kid’s book – a rescue plot, witches, dragons, a brigade of animals, children acting with limited parental supervision, a stereotypical big-nosed villain to mock, a castle with a moat and some gargoyles… It’s packed full of tropes and devices kids know and love.
- There is a very handy character list at the beginning – always a plus!
- Three children – an older brother and sister, and a younger, overly-intelligent baby – with a relative who wants to kill them for their inheritance… ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’, anyone? Plus, the family has hints of the Addams Family rolled in as well. There is nothing wrong with incorporating lots of tropes – I listed it as a pro above – but it brings very little originality to the table in addition.
- There were a couple of plot holes and discontinuities. Also, the plot centred around people being shrunk and sent over the internet via email. It’s a kid’s book, yes, but that’s still a tad too nonsensical for my liking.
- Was the addition of a cryogenically-frozen ancestor in the attic really necessary to the plot?
- The book is actually a little light on fantasy for my liking. It takes too long for any real magic (beyond the weird shrinking and going into the computer thing) to be used.
- Some of the language seemed a little too advanced for its target audience. I’m all for putting some more difficult language into children’s books to expand vocabularies, but when it is on every page, a child would spend more time searching for what the words mean than actually reading! Also, in using sophisticated language, the main characters (who are meant to be ten and eight) do not seem their age.
- The characters have really silly names! Titus, Pandora and Damp Strega-Borgia are just the tip of the iceberg! Don Lucifer di S’Embowelli Borgia and Don Chimera di Carne Borgia are perhaps mouthfuls too far.
Would I recommend? – To a ten-year-old reader who adores everything magical and doesn’t mind the lack of originality, yes. To anyone else, probably not.