Lionboy: The Chase

Lionboy - The Chase

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Lionboy. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Lionboy: The Chase is the second part of the Lionboy Trilogy and was written by the mother/daughter writing team of Louisa and Isabel Adamakoh Young (known collectively by the nom-de-plume of Zizou Corder). It was first published in 2004 and is preceded by Lionboy (2003) and succeeded by Lionboy: The Truth (2006). The Chase does not stand alone as it continues the story from the exact point where Lionboy concludes, with Charlie and his lion friends hiding aboard the Orient Express under the protection of the eccentric King of Bulgaria.

It seems to Charlie as though things are finally starting to look up. Following the guidance of Sergei, a helpful alley cat, he has finally reached Venice and the King is more than willing to help him with his dual goals of finding his parents and returning the lions to their home in Morocco. Yet as the King leaves them in the care of Edward, his right hand man, things suddenly take a drastic turn for the worse.

Edward has no intention of allowing the lions to be set free. Instead, he plans to gift them to the corrupt Doge of Venice in order to resolve a long running feud that he has with the King. To make matters worse, Charlie learns that there has been a miscommunication between the cats. His parents are not being held in Venice at all, but in Vence.

With the slaver Rafi and lion tamer Maccomo also closing in, Charlie finds himself in a race against the clock to free the lions once more and find a way to transport them to Africa. However, he is not alone. There are plenty of Venetians who have grown tired of the Doge’s rule who have been waiting for just the right moment to start a revolution…

In my review of Lionboy I spoke about how the novel was hampered by poor plotting and an unmemorable secondary cast. Unfortunately, in The Chase, it gets much, much worse.

Although this novel is intended to be suitable for both children and young adults, there is not really anything here that would appeal to an older audience. The story is incredibly simplistic and contains some unbelievably lazy plotting. It’s difficult to put to words exactly what is wrong with the prose of The Chase and so I think it might be easiest to use a couple of examples.

During the climax of Lionboy, a sabre toothed tiger (later named Primo) was discovered randomly roaming around Paris and eagerly joined them in their escape. Charlie and the lions are aware that Primo is an extinct creature and yet welcome him to their group with open arms. It is later briefly explained that Primo was created in the same manner as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, which serves purely to cause Charlie to briefly exposit about how creating life is wrong. After this, Primo soon leaves the group and that’s the end of his little story arc. Nobody seems to miss their miraculous creation. Nobody seems to find his appearance a little odd (despite the fact he is exposed to the entire population of Venice, they merely believe that he is the reincarnation of the Lion of St. Mark). It seems that cloned sabre toothed tigers are not a real cause for concern in Charlie’s world.

There are a couple of other pointless happenings within the story on top of this. Charlie gives his inhaler to a sick child and becomes worshiped as “The Brown Angel of the Children of the Asthma” as though human compassion is some kind of divine intervention. Charlie’s parents manage to escape from the gated community where they are being held hostage with remarkable ease and travel all the way to Morocco without any kind of indication that anyone has noticed their absence. If handled well and properly tied into the story, these plot elements might not necessarily have been that bad. However, as they are not properly integrated and seemingly hold no consequence, it just feels more as though they occur for convenience’s sake rather than to help the novel form a cohesive whole.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, there is an unfortunate belief that children will buy anything. Whether it be novels, cartoons or films, people think that kids are not critical and thus can be fed any kind of rubbish without complaint. This is one of my pet peeves when it comes to reading children’s literature. Just because it’s aimed at a young audience does not mean it has to be shallow. Children deserve to read stories that are as just as well structured and cohesive as you would expect an adult novel to be. Granted, they need to be simplified and tailored to suit their audience, but this does not mean that they have to suffer any reduction in their quality. There are plenty of books for children out there that fit this criterion – Skellig, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Coraline, The Dark is Rising. These novels are complex and powerful and do not treat their audience as though they are stupid. The Chase does not make this list.

While this is my primary criticism of the novel, it is unfortunately not my only one. The plot of The Chase is incredibly unbalanced. Following the exciting climax of Lionboy, the beginning of this novel slows to a crawl. Over the first two-thirds of the story, very little happens. Charlie and the lions are confined to the Palazzo Bulgaria. Rafi largely remains in hospital. Maccomo sits in a café in Essaouira and waits (really, it’s a good job that Charlie eventually does come to Essaouira and not anywhere else in Morocco or he could have been waiting a long time). The only real excitement comes in the form of Charlie’s parents’ escape but that is over so quickly that it lacked in any suspense.

Comparatively, the final third is jammed full of action. All of the events that occur after Charlie leaves Venice happen in such quick succession that there are no quiet moments to break them up. This is unfortunate, as it did not leave any room for any tension to build. I never once felt any sense of peril for Charlie because it never felt as though he would fail. On top of this came one final kick in the teeth in the form of the last paragraph of the novel:

But that was because he did not know what was about to happen. He didn’t know that what was about to happen would be worse that everything that had happened so far.

I know that this series is a trilogy but that has to be the cheapest cliff-hanger I have ever seen in my life. There’s no subtlety about it whatsoever. It’s just essentially saying “but reader, we haven’t told you the good part yet. If you want to find out fork out another £5.99”.

The weak plot is a shame because I really do want to like Corder’s setting. Although the state of the planet as a whole is largely just hinted at, it paints the picture of a world that has been utterly destroyed by pollution and greed. Pharmaceutical companies deliberately make children allergic to cats in order to raise the demand of asthma medicine, petrol is in short supply so most travel is done over the sea and America seems to have become some huge, evil superpower known only as the Empire. I would love to have seen more of this world and learned how these problems impacted the lives of ordinary folks, but instead we are fed little scraps of the greater picture while the focus is on Charlie’s imprisonment. I hope that the state of the global economy does play a greater role in The Truth, but I am not that optimistic.

At least there is one shining light within the story. Within the melting pot of two dimensional villains and surprisingly lack-lustre talking lions, Charlie remains a likable and realistic protagonist. Although all characters in the novel seem rather childish, at least with Charlie it fits. He still behaves like one would expect a child to in this kind of situation – making rash (and often dangerous) decisions on a whim and occasionally considering breaking his promise to help the lions in order to find his parents faster. Although he is intelligent and brave, at the end of the day he is still a child and his actions reflect this. Unfortunately, that is all that can be really said about him. He, like every other character, receives no development within the story and thus the novel ends with him seeming no different to how he was when his journey began.

In conclusion, while Lionboy suffered from its weak plot and flat secondary cast, The Chase is unfortunately even worse. The characters lack any kind of development, the story is slow-burning and plot elements are seemingly scattered at random with no proper integration into the greater story. This leads to a finished product that feels unfocused and lacks in any kind of tension. While I appreciate that there may be elements of the story that appeal to younger readers (catspeaking is still a pretty cool superpower), I can’t see anything here that would appeal to a teen audience.

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

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Lionboy: The Truth | Arkham Reviews

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