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The Bag of Bones by Vivian French is the second volume in the Tales of the Five Kingdoms series, the first of which is The Robe of Skulls.

9781406306248

This makes these books sound a lot more scary than they are, and the covers don’t help, being particularly creepily illustrated by Ross Collins.

They are actually quite humorous, adventure stories with a cast of funny and entertaining characters set in a fantasy, fairy tale kingdom.

I haven’t read the first volume, and wondered if this would make it hard to pick up the story, but apart from a recurring cast of characters who obviously have some back story that a new reader wouldn’t be privy to if they hadn’t read the first book, there’s not much to stop you fully enjoying this as a stand alone story.

The Five Kingdoms have banned deep (black) magic from their lands, and only allow what they call shallow (white) magic.  A coven of witches meet one day to brew spells to heal villagers and grow crops etc, when their get together is interrupted by one of the witch’s grandmother’s, Truda Hangnail, a dark witch who had previously been banished. Her plan is to turn the shallow witches into her evil helpers and conquer the kingdom.

Her plans are rather thwarted by a simple child called Loobly, one of the witch’s apprentice’s, who is a natural at good magic and whose very presence thwarts the evil intent of black magic.  Things start to go awry and the botched spells unleash a chain of events which mean a race to the finish between good and evil.

This story is rather thin in places. There are bits that don’t really join up for me, but this may be that they will become part of the overarching narrative of the rest of the books, or stuff that has gone on in the first volume that isn’t fully explained in the second.

The characters are fun, the story is amusing and the plot zips along at a fair old pace. The book is suitable for boy and girl readers from about the age of seven to ten or eleven. It isn’t dark or scary in the slightest, and the chapters are nicely broken up by some great illustrations.

The book is rather long to be a perfect transitional book for a newly confident reader, but it would be good for a reader who is almost ready to move on to fully fledged novels, or a confident reader who enjoys a rip roaring fantasy adventure story.

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