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Book Review: Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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The imagery and concept behind the Barnaby Grimes series is amazing. Young Barnaby Grimes is a tick-tock lad, a messenger who hires out to run errands across a large, sprawling city that at once puts me in the mind of Victorian London. Artist Chris Riddell’s pen and ink drawings add insight to the images created by author Paul Stewart’s words.

Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf is a simple story, and I had most of it figured out long before I got to the end, but I’m not the target audience. The books are aimed at kids between the ages of 9-12, but the story can be easily enjoyed by us much older folks as well.

Barnaby is a likeable character, and he narrates his own story in a down to earth and friendly style that gives access to him as well as his world. I love the whole idea of him jumping from rooftop to rooftop in an effort to get his messages to their destination in the fastest time possible. Of course, as Barnaby reminds his readers, such defiance of gravity is oftentimes dangerous. As a result, several of his mates have gotten killed or grievously injured. Barnaby is one of the last few that still travels in such a manner.

Although the city isn’t named, I kept thinking of London during the Victorian era. Riddell’s amazing art carried out that impression. The city has different areas and districts that get mentioned in this book, and I can’t wait to explore them in the subsequent volumes.

Since he gets about the city so much and does so much business with all kinds of people (including a very interesting scientist with strange ideas), Barnaby knows a lot of the citizens. I enjoyed how he interacted with them, and I lamented when he lost some of those that seemed so real. Some of them, I know, will return again and again, but Stewart has proven that his world can be somewhat heartless as well.

There’s also a mix of mad science and the supernatural in this book. Judging from the covers of the other three novels already printed, that trend continues. Stewart and Riddell handle these elements very well, making them both exciting as well as frightening.

This is a short, quick read with a compact storyline that reluctant readers will enjoy. Barnaby is exactly the kind of kid young readers can look up to, whether he’s bounding from rooftop to chimney stack, or if he’s exchanging sword strokes with the local toffs. I’ve already got the second book on reserve at my local library.

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