Friday, 15 January 2010

Reviews: Simon Weston

Simon Weston: A Nod from Nelson
Pont, 2008, hb, £7.99

Simon Weston: Nelson to the Rescue
Pont, 2009, hb, £8.99

Having a quick look back at my lastest reviews, I see they're almost all historical fiction: I promise you I do read other things (though I have a couple more historicals waiting in the wings to be reviewed), and here are two.

The Nelson books are by Simon Weston, a soldier who overcame appalling injuries sustained during the Falklands War. He has written several books about his experiences, but these are his first excursions into children's fictions. The books are written with David FitzGerald, and are illustrated by Jac Jones.

These are tricky books to review: I normally end a book with a few comments charging about in my brain, but I finished the first one of these not entirely certain what I thought about it. I then read the second, hoping that would clarify what I thought, but I'm not certain that it did.

Both books are larky fantasies about Nelson, a just-retired Shire horse who used to pull a milk float. If I tell you that the other characters in the book include Flight Lieutenant Pigeon and James Pond the frog this perhaps gives you an idea of what you're up against: plenty of puns, and masses of references to popular culture: the horses send hay-mails, and experience saddle-lite broadcasting. The stories are certainly wacky, and full of energy, but for me they didn't quite come off: I liked the puns; the authors do a good job of making talking animals seem entirely normal, and yet... and yet.... the wackiness is maybe a little too concentrated. There's a sense of rushing pell-mell off to the next amazing episode, and the next joke. I think, at the end of the books, I felt whirled through Nelson's world, without having had time to appreciate it. I'd have liked a slower unfolding of some of the jokes.

The illustrations do a great job, and have some of the subtlety the stories lack.


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