Malamander- Thomas Taylor

This is an absolute cracker of a salty legend with shivers and scares a plenty . Don’t do what I did and read this late at night and need to read something ‘calming’ to let the Adrenaline run its course!!

Basically it’s an epic and gorgeously quirky read and I’m so excited to know there will be more books set in Eerie upon Sea because despite my enthusiasm for the story, there is quite a lot unsaid and left dangling like ripe fruit which I hope will be developed in future stories.

Book cover for Malamander
Cover illustration by George Ermos

Herbert Lemon washed up on the shore of Eerie on Sea in a crate of lemons and was taken in by the town now living as the Lost and Founder of the Grand Nautilus Hotel. One day a girl tumbles through his snowy window and asks him to find her parents who went missing 12 years ago and possibly has something to do with the local legend of a half man, half fish , half something Malamander that prowls the winter shore.

When sea mist drifts up the streets like vast ghostly tentacles, and saltwater spray rattles the windows of the Grand Nautilus Hotel. Few people visit Eerie on Sea then. Even the locals keep off the beach when darkness falls and the wind howls around Maw Rocks and the wreck of the battleship Leviathan where been now some swear they have seen the unctuous Malamander creep.

This is Taylor’s first foray into Middle Grade. Noted for illustrating the original Harry Potter covers, Taylor has written many picture books including one my Tinyfae adores – Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake Illustrations by Jill Barton (Boxer Books) which, considering the sweetness of that, there is quite a different experience with the salt-sprinkled seaside horror scented with the vinegary tang of legend.

But, when you look closer, the heart of Taylor’s writing remains the same. Herbie is a caring and empathetic boy who sees helping people with the Lost and Foundery as a vocation of the soul rather than a job to get him shelter. Herbie cares about doing the right thing but not at the cost of others, and his kindly spirit shines to be recognised by others with good hearts too such as Seegol.

The writing is excellent with a sensory immersion thanks to the use of present tense in the narrative and description. This extends to the names throughout which are wonderfully inventive (S)Herbert Lemon, Miss Parma (Violet), Ambergriss and more. Many have a multi sensory factor particularly of taste and scent so you may develop a sort of synesthesia about certain characters which then transfers to the landscape where you can almost taste the salty air and petrichor.

However it’s worth pointing out that there is quite a bit that is touched on, and a lot of back story to barrel into the first book so plot threads are sometimes left hanging untidily which I hope are pursued in future novels.

“You know how people go to see a doctor to get medicine?’ I say. ‘ Well, this is the same, only with books. The stories are like the medicine, see?’

The Eerie Book Depository is such a creative concept! I was really inspired by that section with the fortune telling mer-monkey typing the book you NEED like a cross between the Fortune Telling machine from Big (1988) and an organ grinders monkey with a nod to the cheeky trick by PT Barnum who basically created this to say he had a mermaid on display.

The whole concept of your fortune being read of the book you need like a panacea for your problems is such a beautiful metaphor for reading for pleasure.

There’s something wonderful and yet quintessentially British eccentric about this seaside tale that could fit in any eerily empty seaside town in winter, yet it does have somewhat of a flavour of Santa Clara, the fictional seaside town terrorised by immortally teen vampires in the cult film The Lost Boys (1987) of a seemingly boring touristy seaside town that is hiding huge horrific secrets. Except swap out Vampires for The Creature from the Black Lagoon or similar tentacle toothed sea monsters and add a dash of cursed sailor tales from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The interplay of almost-contemporary (no social services for abandoned children, no mobile phones) and legendary creates a gorgeous piece of myth making and I’m so excited to see where these characters will take us in the future. Absolutely fantastic.

Malamander by Thomas Taylor is published by Walker Books and available online and from bookshops. It is also deservedly in both the Toppsta and Waterstones books of the month for May 2019.

Thank you to Walker Books for sending me this copy to review on another platform. This has not affected my opinion.

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