Lionboy

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Lionboy was first published in 2003 and was written by Zizou Corder (a nom de plume shared by the mother/daughter writing team of Louisa and Isabel Adomakoh Young). It forms the first part of a trilogy and is subsequently followed by Lionboy: The Chase and Lionboy: The Truth.

The story is set in the near future, in a time when oil supplies are on the verge of running out and people have been forced to embrace alternate sources of power. The story focuses on Charlie Ashanti, who lives in London with his scientist parents. Although Charlie seems to be an ordinary boy, he possesses an incredible ability – he can speak and understand the language of cats. Charlie lives a carefree life until one day he arrives home from school to find that his parents are missing.

Charlie is soon approached by Rafi, a local boy, who claims that his parents had to go away for a while but instructed him to look after Charlie until they returned. Sensing that he is lying, Charlie quickly escapes and flees down river where he is picked up by a travelling circus.

Utilising his gift, Charlie quickly manages to befriend the circus’s pride of lions and discovers that they want nothing more than to be free. He quickly forms a deal with them – if they can help him track down his parents, he will help them return to their homeland.

Lionboy was sold to me on the basis that it was a book that appealed to both children and teenagers but I’m not entirely certain that this is a fair assessment of the novel. Although younger teens may get some enjoyment from the story, I don’t think that there is enough going for Lionboy to attract an older audience.

The plot of the story was entertainingly original but felt insubstantial. Although the setting – a world where fuel is so scarce that only the very rich can afford it and many children have suddenly begun to suffer from severe allergies – is a very intriguing one this hardly impacts the novel at all. It’s a bit of a shame, as it would be interesting to see how these rather far reaching issues affected the lives of the main characters beyond the few paragraphs of exposition that we are given to set the stage for the story.

The story itself also felt somewhat lacking in places. Some of the plot threads made little sense – either because they were not adequately explained or because they were just absurd. For example (please look away now if you would like to avoid a small spoiler), the origin of Charlie’s power is eventually revealed to have been caused when he was exposed to leopard blood as a baby. In what world does that make sense? It sounds like the origin story of a Golden Age superhero, not the protagonist of a modern novel. I know that many people are willing to excuse poor plotting in children’s stories but I personally find this a little irksome. Just because a story is aimed at a young audience does not mean that it should not make coherent sense.

The story is also unevenly paced, suffering from the fact that it is clearly structured to be part of a trilogy. A lot of the mid-section of the novel, where Charlie is confined to the circus ship, is very slow and repetitive. Certain plot points – Charlie trying to hide his abilities from Maccomo, the cruel lion tamer, receiving threatening phone calls from Rafi, engaging in pointless asides with the other children – occur again and again and so feel as though their intention is to fill space rather than advance the story.

It is not until close to the end of the story that the pace suddenly picks up for Charlie’s escape but then it dwindles away to nothing again in the final chapter. The result is a rather unsatisfactory cliff-hanger, leaving very few mysteries (other than why a sabre-toothed tiger suddenly joins the party without explanation during the climax) unresolved. I was somewhat apathetic towards the ending. While I am slightly curious as to what will happen next, there was no sense of threat or urgency to make me really want to read the next novel.

However, my feelings towards Lionboy are not entirely negative. One of its strongest virtues is in the development of its main character. Charlie does act like a pre-teen boy. I know that this might seem like an odd thing to praise, but so many authors make the error of writing their child characters as small adults. To actually see a child character behave like a child is highly refreshing. Charlie is brave and resourceful, easily seeing through the lies that Rafi tells him and taking it upon himself to rescue his parents alone. However, he does also still make silly mistakes and makes rash decisions that he later comes to regret. Rafi’s threatening phone calls terrify him, even though he rationalises that his enemy could not possibly find him. In an attempt to feel braver, he responds to these calls to allude to the fact that he is with lions. It does not occur to Charlie until it is far too late that he has given Rafi a clue to his location. As mature as Charlie tries to act, he is still a child who finds comfort in hugging his toy tiger (in secret, of course, so no one will know that he is not a big boy) and this makes him incredibly sympathetic.

Unfortunately, Charlie is the only character who is developed enough for us to feel any kind of empathy towards. Although many characters (especially the members of the circus troupe) are introduced in rapid succession, most only appear very briefly and are largely unimportant. Even the major antagonists – such as Rafi and Maccomo – are only really characterised as being “bad guys”. The leader of the corporation who kidnapped Charlie’s parents does not even get a name.

Charlie’s parents, in particular, suffer from poor development. They seem to be completely detached from the story and the fact that they have been kidnapped is treated as nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Although both of them are highly educated people they behave increasingly childishly as the story progresses, seeming unconcerned by their own situation and the danger that Charlie could be in.

Even the lions fail to really develop as characters in their own rights. Only one lion gets named in the story (as apparently lion names are impossible to pronounce) and of the rest Charlie only really interacts with one that he calls Young Lion. The others – particularly the Lionesses – are not really differentiated from one another and rarely speak or exhibit any sense of individuality. When your novel hinges on the plot point of a character’s ability to communicate with lions, it seems a bit of an oversight that these lions have very little to say.

So what are my final opinions of the story? Well, despite a unique premise and strong main character, the novel is weakened by some poor plotting and an unmemorable secondary cast. Although I think some younger (or less critical) readers might get a little enjoyment from the tale, there are certainly better fantasy novels out there that would be more deserving of your time.

Lionboy can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Lionboy: The Chase | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Lionboy: The Truth | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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