I first encountered Philip Reeve’s work with Mortal Engines, the first of the series of four books of the same name – a dark far-future adventure tale of huge mobile cities (including London) that roamed the post-apocalyptic landscape, devouring everything in their path. It quickly became one of my favourite children’s books, both for the richness of the world-building and the complexity of the characters.
I first encountered Sarah McIntyre’s work with Vern and Lettuce, a comic strip in the now-defunct comic The DFC, a comic tale of best friends Vern, a sheep, and Lettuce, a rabbit, who live in Pickle Rye, a fictionalised suburb of London, and get up to all sorts of adventures involving baking and babysitting and talent shows. Every time The DFC came through my letterbox, it was Vern and Lettuce that I read first – in a comic full of fun and inventive stories, it was definitely my favourite, and I made sure to buy the hardcover collection as soon as it was released for ease of re-reading.
While both works, Mortal Engines and Vern and Lettuce, were for children, they marked two opposite ends of the spectrum of children’s literature. Other than their high quality and connection to London, they had absolutely nothing in common. So it was a bit of a surprise when I read that Mr. Reeve and Ms. McIntyre were joining forces – and Oliver and the Seawigs is the first fruit of their collaboration.
If it’s an example of what they can produce together, I can only hope that it’s the first of many more collaborations.
The titular Oliver is a 10-year-old boy, the son of two adventurers. As with many children, he rebels against the principles of his parents, and longs for nothing more than to settle down in one place and even (and this is where it gets really far-fetched) looks forward to going to school. His plans are all changed when suddenly his parents disappear, and he has to go on an adventure to rescue them.
On the way he discovers Rambling Isles – floating islands that are obsessed with crafting artificial coiffures out of flotsam and jetsam – the seawigs of the title. He’s accompanied by Iris, the short-sighted mermaid, and encounters sarcastic seaweed and an evil nemesis with an army of sea monkeys – eep! It’s funny and silly and exciting, and filled with bizarre characters.
Oliver turns out to be particularly good at adventuring, despite his stay-at-home preferences, and faces down the villainous Stacey de Lacey, his army of sea monkeys, and the dastardly Rambling Isle called Thurlstone in a bid to save his parents.
It’s a short book, but is lavishly illustrated, so clocks in at around two hundred pages. It’s a gorgeously-produced book, and the illustrations are completely integral to the reading experience – each page is laid out with the text perfectly accompanied by pictures. If you make the mistake of getting this book on Kindle, you’re presented with page images rather than a proper e-book – in fact, on my Kindle the sample didn’t even display properly. It looked OK on my tablet, but really, if you want to read this book, do yourself a favour and buy the real thing – it’s a lovely little hardback that will look great on your shelf.