The Phenomenals: A Tangle of Traitors by F.E. Higgins

Something a little different this evening methinks…

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780330507554
Published: 3/1/2013

Welcome to Degringolade, where the tar pits bubble and superstition reigns supreme. The annual scarifice to the Lurids is about to begin and murder, mischief and malodorus magic are afoot. Enter the new alliance, the Phenomenals: Folly Harperlaine, a dark arts dabbler with a perculiar interest in the zombie-like Lurids; Vincent Vedrigis, light fingered thief and pickpocket extroardinaire; Citrine Capodel, framed for a crime she didn’t commit and heiress to a fortune; and finally Jonah Scrimshander, salty seadog with a scarred face, a tall tale and a deadly knack with a harpoon. Together they must solve the mystery of the ambulent Lurids and why somone would want to threaten the town with them  and disrupt the tar pit sacrifice.

You have no idea how difficult it was to write the description above – this is a writer who likes to play about with language and the way it sounds, not just reads, which means I end up spellchecking every few letters. However, it does make for some rather fun and intriguing names, especially when you say them out loud: try it, read the names of the characters aloud, it’s great fun! They trip, slide, hiss, roll and snap off the tongue, like a syllable playground (if a spellchecker nightmare).

In fact, the language Higgins uses (like the names she picks for her characters) is the one thing I really noticed above all other when reading The Phenomenals. Maybe she was just setting the tone of the story but the language used in this book is hugely unusual. As I was reading I kept coming across words that took me by surprise, either because I hadn’t seen them for a long time or because I’d not come across them outside of an older, adult read before. I mean, when’s the last time you saw words like lucent, pediment, balusters or medley in a  book aimed at 9-12 year old children?! It was a nice change, and so different compared to some of the other books I’ve been reading this year and really set the tone of the book, gave it an old-timey feel with it’s old-timey style language. Plus it was just fun to read, all these new, excellent and carefully chosen words! I had to read some parts aloud just because the words felt so fun tripping off my tongue (and that doesn’t sound weird at all…)

The author’s also experimented with adding in her own new words to the book’s vocabulary, although I must admit I didn’t get on with these quite as well. Words like ‘nanyone’, ‘Trikukulos’ and ‘Spletivus!’ set the scene nicely and do a neat job of transporting you to a different land and town, but although I got used to reading them and understanding them within the first few chapters, I did still find myself tripping up by the end of the book. It didn’t upset the story though and I think any tripping up I may have had was more than offset by how well the language helped me get in to the characters and town.

The characters themselves are kind of fun too, although you do only get to know one of them in a real amount of detail, namely the chappy on the front cover Vincent Vedrigis. He definately seems to be the favourite, unless this is a series where each book revolves mostly around one of the main characters. Either way they’re intriguing: I love Vincent’s cheeky chappy persona and the way he tricks and cheats and eases his way round to getting what he wants or sneaking past The Fuzz. Aside from Vincent though, the real interest of the four for me was Folly – why and how does she know so much about the dark arts and just why is she so interested in the treacherous tar pits and thier zombie/Lurid occupants? And why does she live in a tomb (not that that doesn’t make my inner Goth grin in glee, if my inner Goth were wont to grin)?!

So, a book that delights in playing with language (and if you really want to be sneaky about it, possibly a bit of a vocab-builder) and although it may be skewed a little towards the one character in this book, there’s still plenty to enjoy both with him and the other characters. One to pick up when you need something a little off the beaten track.

Find The Phenomenals here.

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