The second story in the Unmapped Chronicles is full of adventure, magic, threat and danger and, most importantly, of the transforming power of kindness and understanding.
“Take the marble. Then run, girl, run headlong into this adventure. The Unmapped Kingdoms have chosen you and, when magic sets its sights on someone, it’s remarkably hard to wriggle free.”
The Petty-Squabble family is not a happy one. Eleven year old twins Fox and Fibber are united in only one way, a desperate desire to inherit the family fortune and avoid being banished to Antarctica by their business obsessed parents. The children’s separate plans find them together in a mysterious antique shop in a small Bavarian town where an old man reveals that Fox and Fibber have unwittingly released long hidden magic and that magic has chosen them to travel on a quest to save the world.
When the twins are then whisked away to the magical world of Jungledrop, one of the Unmapped kingdoms in charge of our world’s weather, they quickly learn that everything they have been taught by their parents; stamping on others to get on in the world, showing kindness is a sign of weakness and success is measured by wealth, all of this is no use at all when you are up against an evil harpy named Morg and time is running out. They are going to have to learn a different way of behaving and perhaps most difficult of all they are going to have to learn to work together.
Although inspired by the Amazon rainforest the land of Jungledrop is a gorgeously imagined one and Abi Elphinstone has once more created a world that will enchant young readers just like Narnia did for previous generations. This is a world of magical rooftop pathways, mysterious caves holding secrets and enchanted temples. The threat to this magical kingdom mirrors the threat to our own habitats and the story encourages children to notice the beauty and the fragility of the natural world about them and to help to protect it if they can.
In addition to the fabulous setting the reader meets equally fabulous characters. My own favourite was the talking parrot, Heckle, who not only is able to read your mind but also never stops telling everyone what those thoughts are. She has, as you may imagine, a large part to play in the adventure! There are panthers, apothecaries, flying creatures, magical plants and an enchanted map among other delights and this imagined cast of characters build together to create an intricately plotted and satisfying story. At the heart of it all are Fox and Fibber, two of the most unlikely, and in Fox in particular, frankly unlikeable heroes. Yet their development throughout the adventure is what gives this story its heart and the important theme that does, I think, give this book an added impact. This is ultimately a story of redemption, of discovering that kindness is important and that by opening yourself up to others and sharing goals and ideas life can be easier and happier for everyone including yourself.
Comparisons have been made with both C S Lewis and Roald Dahl and I can understand why, the idea of a portal to another world is similar and one that has long held an appeal to readers. The names of many of the characters are reminiscent of Dahl and made me chuckle; how can you not feel sympathy for a magical flying stallion named Total Shambles or want to visit an apothecary called The Constant Whinge? Yet there are important differences. In Narnia the fantasy world was used partly to convey religious themes whereas the Unmapped Chronicles are focussed on the climate crisis which is something that resonates strongly with today’s young readers and could never have been imagined when C S Lewis wrote his books. Abi Elphinstone uses humour in Jungle Drop just as she did in Rumblestar but her humour is subtly different to that of Dahl, kinder and more forgiving. Perhaps in Dahl’s version of this story Fox would have been punished as the irritating children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were? In Abi Elphinstone’s hands Fox is guided and reassured in order to encourage change which is a much more hopeful and positive message for children.
This exciting story is an escape from reality but rooted in real life concerns. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and feel sure young readers will too. Although the second in the series Jungledrop works perfectly well as a stand alone as sufficient background to the Unmapped Kingdoms is included, however I imagine children will want to read the others in the series too, the first of which is Everdark followed by Rumblestar. Everdark is to be rereleased in a dyslexia friendly format too. I should like to thank Abi Elphinstone and Simon and Schuster for providing my review copy.
Jungle Drop was published on 1st October and is available at your local bookshop or online.
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