'The Chime Seekers' is a fantastic children's book that cleverly riffs on fairie aspects from British folklore with the feeling of a high stakes role-play game. My eleven-year-old self would be raving about this. In fact, my thirty-something self can't help but do the same because 'The Chime Seekers' has goblins, ghost ships, a talking lamp post, a sinister shadow world and a quest with impossible tasks. Plus, Ross Montgomery, as evidenced by last year's 'The Midnight Guardians' (review here), is such an incredibly skilled writer. Through humour, horror and heart he writes fantasy-adventures you simply cannot put down, and this is no exception. I loved it!
Yanni and has moved to Fallow Hall with his exhausted parents and his screaming baby sister Ari. Nothing feels right. So when on All Hallow's Eve, Yanni's parents go out, leaving him and his cousin Amy to babysit, he angrily wishes he never had Ari as a sister at all. Unfortunately, a powerful faerie hears this and cunningly swaps Ari for a changeling. In a race against time, Yanni and Amy must enter a shadowy version of Fallow Hall to rescue Ari by completing a series of frightening and difficult challenges. But fairies are tricksters so Yanni must delve deep to keep his wits about him and learn from his terrible mistakes...
Comparisons to the film 'Labyrinth' and this year's 'Otherland' by Louie Stowell are inevitable here, but Ross Montgomery has his own unique style which sets 'The Chime Seekers' apart. Firstly, Yanni as a protagonist is flawed; everything that happens is because of his mistakes, his selfishness and stubbornness. He is a very real boy - one that I could relate to (in fact, he feels like a combination of my eleven-year-old self with my best friend of Greek heritage!) But Montgomery makes Yanni incredibly likeable too. We want him to succeed and learn from his errors, which makes his inner transformation all the more rewarding. This provides a necessary psychological depth, which all the best fairy-tales have, against the external events that are whimsical, horrifying and also such huge fun - I mean, come on, GOBLINS! There is something of the Greek myth about all this too, particularly with Yanni's family origins - he is something like a flawed Perseus in the underworld, which makes me love this even more. Add into this a brilliant, loyal companion in Amy and a really dreadful, trickster antagonist, and you've got a winning formula. Lord Renwin, by the way, is a spine-chillingly brilliant villain. Montgomery makes him unforgivably nasty, but with subtlety and twists; further raising the stakes. And oh are there twists in this tale! Everything fits together like a labyrinthine dream.
Ross Montgomery is turning out to be one of my favourite MG storytellers. 'The Chime Seekers', like the 'Midnight Guardians', is an impressively written, well-constructed fantasy-adventure that will chill you to the bones and warm your heart in equal measure. Absolutely riveting stuff and one of the best books of 2021!
Thank you to Walker Books for my copy to review.