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Children’s Book Blog: Recommended read – Tall Tales from Pitch End by Nigel McDowell

Rebecca Davies

tall tales from pitch end Children’s Book Blog: Recommended read – Tall Tales from Pitch End by Nigel McDowellThe second of my occasional reviews of amazing books that haven’t been getting the media attention they deserve is this weird and wonderful steam-punk fantasy from Irish author Nigel McDowell…

What’s the story?

Thinking for yourself is not a good idea in Pitch End, a shadowy half-futuristic, half-ancient town ruled by a circle all-powerful Elders and watched day and night by legions of clockwork cats and one-footed crows. Unfortunately for 15-year-old Bruno Atlas, controlling his thoughts has never been his strong point, bringing him into constant conflict with his fellow citizens. But when he gets framed for a crime he did not commit, Bruno discovers that the Elders are hiding a dark secret which only he and a depleted band of rebel fighters can vanquish.

Who’s it for?

10-16 year-olds and anyone who likes their fantasy with an extra dash of imagination.

Why should I read it?

What have steam punk and rural Ireland got in common? Not very much, you might think, but that’s exactly why Tall Tales from Pitch End is such a unique creation. The town of Pitch End is like the future as imagined by some deranged medieval inventor, a twisted, dark place where men walk around with clockwork hearts, children vanish without question, and the despotic Elders rule with an iron fist to ensure their subjects go about their daily business in a ‘rightly-decent’ way. Throw in an extremely likeable teen hero and an equally loathsome villain in the form of the power-hungry Head Elder, and you have yourself a gripping fantasy adventure that’s very difficult to put down.

The narrative voice is unlike any I’ve read before, part old-fashioned Irish pleasantries, part post-apocalyptic future-slang, drawing you into the warped world of Pitch End until you feel as though you’re standing right there on its grimy, cobbled streets. As you wander these streets with young protagonist Bruno, you become increasingly entangled in the web of deceit that makes up the plot, straining to discern the truth from the lies in the stories spun by various characters along the way.

A series of beautifully-crafted folk tales – the ‘Tall Tales’ of the title – punctuate the main story, adding force to the central debate about the nature of ‘truth’, and the extent to which we can accept anything at all as fact. While there’s certainly no shortage of action and adventure, it’s Bruno’s struggle to get to grips with these philosophical quandaries that ultimately makes this such a fulfilling read.

Best character: Pace-the-Witherman, an immortal human with a clockwork heart who helps Bruno on his quest.

Best line: “The one-footed raven population too, teetering on railings and shipping masts, rooftops and chimney pots and men’s bowler hats; black spots littering Bruno’s vision, ruffling nightmares that croaked: ‘Tragedy! Tragedy! Tragedy!’”

If I like this, what other books might I like?

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Rebecca Davies is a journalist and children’s author and completed her middle-grade novel, Shirley Smart and the Nix’s Curse earlier this year. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here

Follow Rebecca on Twitter @TheStoryMonster

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