Writing for children isn’t as easy as some people assume it to be. Children are honest readers and it takes a lot to keep their attention. Thankfully there is a new name to watch out for in this competitive market. Tony Gilbert’s Hugo: A Quest for King Borin, is a new children’s fantasy novel that takes its readers on a perilous journey that includes elves, goblins, kings and queens. And it’s a pretty good one at that!
Queen Ennet’s realm is under attack from a mysterious enemy; a nightmarish, spine-shivering enemy known only as ‘the hooded one’. She sends a note to a King in a foreign land, asking for assistance in finding a special spell that can end the ensuing war before it happens, but as always things do not go to plan. The note is misunderstood and King Borin sends his most bravest knight, Hugo, on a quest to Queen Ennet’s castle to seek penance for some burnt curtains. It is a quest that means Hugo must pass perilous lands, cross over mountains and escape the wastelands.
On his journey, he befriends valuable friends that help him along his journey and it’s these characters that really bring the whole book together. From tree elves, to tiny Ice creatures, to invisible guardians and a friendly goblin, Hugo: A Quest for King Borin is a delightful adventure story with many quirky moments that captures the wacky and inventive imaginations of children everywhere. This band of adventurers jump so easily from the page, every child will champion them on to defeat the coming army headed by ‘the hooded one’.
It’s a brilliantly structured book that provides enough action and dialogue in perfect balance. If there was too much dialogue, then the children would undoubtedly become bored and switch off. But Tony Gilbert masters the balance to give a story that is coherent as well action packed. It’s also a story that is best read out loud, as the action scenes are so exciting, the children will bound to leap out of bed and beg you to read more. It also gives ample opportunity to add voices to the already lively characters.
But this isn’t just a simple quest of good vs. evil. It has many more advanced and deeper themes running through it. Friendship, appearance, truth and acceptance all play a part in this little book. It’s impressive to see so much energy put into telling a story with so many extras. There is a particular tree that can portal Hugo to another place, but first he must pass a test first. A true test that looks deep within him. And the goblin who tries to warn Hugo and co is seen as shift and untruthful at first, but he just wants to be accepted and call someone ‘friend’. It’s these important messages that teach our children to accept someone, no matter their appearance or origin. It could be subconscious, but it’s a special touch.
It’s obvious to see where Tony Gilbert gets his influences from, but as an adult, it reminded me so much of other special gems long forgotten. Not only does it share links with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but I also saw commonalities in 80s film Labyrinth too. In fact, it was written in such a fantastic way, it becomes so easy to see this working as a children’s play.
If I were to pick any disadvantages to this story, it probably would be the age group Tony Gilbert defines it as. In its Amazon description, it is listed for ages 7 – 13. Whereas I would wholeheartedly agree with the 7 age range, it would say it was a little too young for 13 year olds who may prefer to go in search of something more suited to them. Perhaps 7 – 10 ages range would be more suitable. And as fantastic a band of characters they are, some may see the lack of a female role model a little out of the times. Although, it can be said that Queen Ennet herself is a bit of a role model, as she bravely stands up to ‘the hooded one’ and fights upon her steed instead of fleeing with the rest of the townsfolk.
However, Hugo: A Quest for King Borin is superbly imagined, with fantastic, humorous characters that can appeal to a wide range of tastes. In fact, it is such a fantastic fantasy story, it can be the perfect start to introduce children to this often misunderstood genre. It’s traditional, empowering and full of authentic positive messages, as well as the good overcoming the evil. It reads just like a classic fairytale and I’m optimistic that it will delight children at bedtime. Plus, the ending hints at a possible sequel or series – one that can win over a whole bunch of fans. Well done Mr Gilbert, well done indeed.
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