"There was Tolkien, there is Pullman, and now there is Katherine Rundell" Michael Morpurgo.
This is quite some quote to grace the cover of 'Impossible Creatures', the first of a new fantasy trilogy from the talented author of 'Rooftoppers' and 'The Good Thieves'. But this quote feels right - even if time becomes the greatest critic for discerning true classics from near-ones. It feels right to compare Rundell to Tolkien and Pullman, the greats of fantasy writing, because 'Impossible Creatures' filled my heart up, dazzled my imagination and touched my soul, in the way that Tolkien certainly did when I was a child, and Pullman did when I read 'His Dark Materials' as an adult.
'Impossible Creatures' is a triumph of fantasy writing in that it honours what has come before while creating a world so new and wondrous it must be true, it must be real - somewhere. It's the combination of the new and the invented, alongside the 'true ring' of the ancient and the mythic, that sets this apart in a crowded genre. Yes, most children love books with dragons and unicorns, but what about spinxes and mantitcores, hippocamps and ratatoska? Rundell delights and terrorises the reader with a bestiary of beasts: timeless, primordial, strange and unnervingly real. With its quest across the seas, this book is a modern children's Odyssey.
While the comparisons to Tolkien feel true, my thoughts are also that Rundell is more the heir to Ursula le Guin, author of the terrific 'Earthsea' saga. In 'Impossible Creatures' I was swept off across the Archipelago, across strange waters and lands, in much the same way as with Le Guin, with the feeling of something more profound underneath, more philosophical; an echo of the darkest and lightest aspects of ourselves. And Rundell's writing is beautiful too, textured, pacy and enchanting. She's a Storyteller, as Tolkien, Le Guin and Pullman were. Not just telling a story, but conjuring a world out of some imaginative space wholly unique, with characters that measure up to the great ones in classic fiction.
Suffice to say, I love 'Impossible Creatures' and I admire it deeply. It makes me feel ten-years-old again, discovering not just a book, but an imaginative space to dream in and then to return from, feeling the fire of inspiration make the real world feel a little sharper again.
I won't give away the plot. Why should I spoil the adventure into a new Narnia? Just follow Christopher in and enjoy the world that awaits....