Twelve-year-old Ches Cholmondeley is a curmudgeonly kid whose favourite place is his room. There he enjoys sitting in the dark, making rainbows or otherwise playing with light. Though his father is in a coma after the showdown with the evil Dada (the end of The Blue Umbrella), he never goes to visit his dad, whom he hates and disrespectfully calls “Rev.” After all, what should one expect from a kid whose dad tried to kill him?
However, other things soon begin to go wrong in The Violet Flash, Mike Mason’s second book in The Blue Umbrella series. Earth’s atomic clocks are losing entire seconds, causing accidents and deaths. The disappearance of Ches’s beloved sister Chelsea during one of these incidents does a lot to convince him to say yes to Sky Porter’s request that he accept the task of trying to stop the time thief.
Again we meet characters from The Blue Umbrella like Eldy, Sky Porter, Zac, O, and Chelsea. But this story is mainly Ches’s and focuses on him and his relationship with his father, the Reverend Edgerton Cholmondeley. The names are always interesting and I loved the characterizations, especially of intriguing players like Horace Henbother and Myron Stinchcombe.
The setting is imaginative, well thought-out, and drawn in detail, though I did find Ches’s world of weather, color flashes, and their relationship to time and the blue umbrella hard to get into and stay interested in.
Plot-wise the fantasy setting and elements sometimes seemed a little like cheating as there was always some magic within the blue umbrella to counteract anything fatal happening to our hero.
This fantasy tale that focuses on time also contains an abundance of skilfully concealed Christian symbolism. For example, Chelsea’s description of the land if Idyllis with its Elements and Inclements reminded me of the spirit world and heaven, especially when she says, “Ches! Idyllis is more real than here. This world is passing away but that one will last forever.” p. 320
Eldy, Sky Porter’s father (who seems a type of God the Father) spends his time forming stars. When Ches asks Sky why the powerful Eldy didn’t stop some of the bad things from happening, Sky replies, “He could have. But he’d rather use his power to do good than to stop evil.” p. 326.
Sky Porter is clearly a type of Jesus, illustrated by the words of Chelsea when she explains to Ches what happened to her: “Sky saved me. He came and took my place in the black hole, and I went free…” p. 318. Later Ches muses: “The blows that had been meant for him had fallen upon Sky” p. 319.
As in The Blue Umbrella, I loved Mason’s writing. The story is told simply but in words carefully chosen for their profundity. My paperback copy is full of underlines like,
“What he had just seen could not have happened. He had no category for it.” p. 21
“In Ches’s book a man was what he did, not what he might do,” p. 29
“…an alien-looking gibbous moon hung over the roof of the church bathing the town in moth-white light” p. 43. (Note that lovely word “gibbous.” Well, there’s a glossary at the back of the book explaining the meaning of it and other deliciously different and obscure words Mason uses to tell the story.)
Three “Outakes”—scenes that were cut from the final version of the story— show how the tale could have taken different turns and shed a little light on an author’s range of choices and direction for plot and character.
For readers who enjoyed The Blue Umbrella, The Violet Flash is a must-read. Though the story stands on its own I would say you really should read The Blue Umbrella first to enjoy this book to the max.
All in all this is a fine and fantastical tale that will give children and their adults lots of mull over and discuss.