You won't find many novels narrated by a grumpy, flea-bitten bird, so Marcus Sedgwick has scored a first with Flood and Fang: The Raven Mysteries, where the central character and storyteller is Edgar, a past-his-prime raven.
As self-appointed guardian to the Otherhand clan of Otherhand Castle, Edgar has his hands full protecting his strange charges as weird events threaten their ancient home.
From the moment Edgar spots a nasty looking tail slithering though the rhubarb plants, things spin disastrously out of control, and the faithful guardian must pull out all stops.
Flood and Fang is the first of The Raven Mysteries, a new series of mystery and goth-froth tales for young teens with a keen sense of the ridiculous. We are not in the realms of gothic seriousness and high passions here: Flood and Fang has its tongue firmly in cheek, aiming for light-hearted mayhem rather than chills and darkness.
The Otherhand family is as weird a bunch of individuals that you could ever hope to meet. Lord Valevine is always too busy inventing to notice anything that happens outside his laboratory. His wife Minty develops obsessions at the drop of a hat: right now it's baking.
Cudweed Otherhand is a hyper-active 10-year-old who spends his days running riot with his pet monkey in tow. Then there are the twins, although the less said about them, the better. The only Otherhand who could pass for anything close to normal is Solstice, the black-haired, poetry-writing daughter of the house. She is the only one Edgar can turn to in times of crisis.
A massive crisis is looming over - or rather, under - Otherhand Castle. Edgar has noticed the castle's cellars are mysteriously flooding. Then, a kitchen maid disappears and Edgar spots that hideous tail in the vegetable patch.
With a possible monster on the prowl, servants vanishing and the castle flooding, Edgar flies into action to prevent Otherhand deaths by either flood or fang. It isn't an easy task, but our raven hero is a determined old bird who has seen many odd things, and no doubt will see many more before he falls off his perch.
Flood And Fang never takes itself seriously, and establishes an interesting narrator for future adventures. Edgar observes the Otherhands with a certain amount of amusing contempt, and is never afraid of letting us know what he really thinks. The story rattles along at a fast pace and Pete Williamson's inky illustrations add much to the weird fun of the plot and characters. A lively hoot from beginning to end.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]