Explorers on Witch Mountain

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club. You can read my review of this [here].

Explorers on Witch Mountain was written by Alex Bell and first published in 2018. It is the second book in The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club series and tells the continuing story of Stella Starflake Pearl, the first female explorer. The novel follows on directly where The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club (2017) left off, so I would definitely recommend reading them in sequence to ensure that you have a firm grasp of what is going on.

Stella is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she is an ice princess. While having the power to control snow seems fun, she can’t help but remember the way that it felt when her heart started to freeze over. To make matters worse, people that she has never met seem to have decided that she’s a monster, and have taken to writing to both Felix and the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club to make their feelings known.

This is one of the reasons that Stella has not left her home since their adventure to the frozen north. The other reason is the giant vulture that seems to be stalking her. She knows that it was sent by Jezzybella – the witch who murdered her biological parents – and so whatever it wants can’t be good. When the creature finally manages to break into their home, Felix wastes no time in seizing control of it. He orders it to take him to Witch Mountain so that he can face Jezzybella, and orders Stella to stay home where it is safe.

Yet Stella knows that she can’t sit idly by. Witch Mountain is so dangerous that Explorers have never fully mapped it, and Jezzybella is the most evil witch of them all. With the help of Ethan, Beanie and Shay, she steals a dirigible and flies off to rescue her father. Yet this time they could have bitten off more than they can chew. There are things on Witch Mountain that are more dangerous than witches, and Stella may be forced to rely on her dangerous magic if they are to have any chance of surviving…

If you enjoyed reading The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, I am certain that you will also love this book. The story this time around was a little slower to start, but this was certainly not to its detriment. It allowed Stella and her team to have a little more time to plan. While last time they were amateur explorers who were thrown together by chance, this time they set out with a mission – to rescue Felix – which helps to add a sense of urgency to the tale.

Much like its prequel, Explorers on Witch Mountain is a novel that never slows down. The team rarely stop to rest in their quest, hopping from one adventure to the other while always keeping their goal in mind. This time, the perils that stand in their way are even more deadly than those of their first expedition. From flying sharks, to soul-drinking wolves, to the horror of a teddy bears’ picnic, the characters are rarely not in danger. Yet the novel is clearly written with its target audience in mind. While it can be a little scary in places, it never felt inappropriately so.

Bell’s world still carries the whimsical charm that made The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club such a joy to read. It noticeably takes its inspiration from several faerie stories (most notably The Snow Queen and The Red Shoes), but also embellishes these with Bell’s own creative elements. However, I did start to think that the story was perhaps a little too busy this time around. While Stella’s entourage in the first book was relatively small, this time it has increased to five children, a camel, a walrus, a pygmy dinosaur, four faeries, a spirit wolf, a genie and a bag of frogs, which means that there isn’t really enough time to give every character the attention that they deserve.

Yet Explorers on Witch Mountain was still immensely satisfying to read. Its third person narrative flowed really nicely and broke off at the perfect moment, drawing this adventure to a close while leaving an obvious path open to the sequel. The novel also carried a wonderful message about the dangers of judging someone based on their race. Over the course of the novel, this is very neatly illustrated in both the attitudes that people have towards Stella and Stella’s own prejudice towards witches. It teaches the reader that it is wrong to make assumptions about people based solely on their appearance, and how you can’t make a judgement on what someone is like without first getting to know them. These are certainly very poignant messages in this day and age.

In terms of character, the core protagonists are all very strong and each member of Stella’s circle of friends has a distinct personality. However, I don’t think that this story took the time to develop them to the degree that The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club did. While the last book ensured that they each had something to do, Explorers on Witch Mountain was primarily Stella’s story.

Yet, I was pleased by the addition of Cadi and Drucilla to the cast. It was fantastic to see some other young female characters, as the story to date has been very male dominated. I also liked the subtle way that Felix’s sexuality was revealed at the end of the book. I don’t remember this being brought up in the previous story, but the way that it was delivered in dialogue felt very natural and also added another layer to his character. It is certainly the first middle grade novel that I have encountered which has a gay single parent as a central character.

Anyhow, apologies that this is a bit of a short review but I don’t have a lot more to say. Explorers on Witch Mountain is a great sequel to The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, filled with fast-paced adventure and wonderfully imaginative settings. I really can’t wait to get my hands on the next instalment.

Explorers on Witch Mountain can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook & Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 4 | Arkham Reviews
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