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Book Reviews

April, 2000

Bartlett and the City of Flames
By Odo Hirsch Sydney: Allen and Unwin 1999. PB

Price: $12.95

This is the sequel to Bartlett and the Ice Voyage , but, though some reference is made to the first novel, it isn't necessary to have read it to follow this one. In fact, even the first one started more or less in media res, in the middle of things.

We aren't told anything, in either novel, about Bartlett's background, even his first name, or that of his friend, Jacques le Grand, with whom he travels the world in search of adventure. All we know is that they're professional travellers/explorers, in a vague part of Europe some time in the past. The illustrations suggest the era is the eighteenth century, but nothing in the text does.

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Presumably they take temporary jobs to pay for their travels, but the only one we know of is the task they undertook in the first novel, to bring back a fruit that rots a day after being picked, for their Queen. Her payment was sponsorship of their next journey, through the world's largest cave system. As this novel opens, they and their young friend Gozo emerge from the caves after months of travel, into a desert kingdom. Gozo, who joined them in the first novel, is mistaken for the missing son of the Pasha, the local ruler, and the only way they can get him back, as well as their precious maps of the caves, is to find the real prince, in the underground kingdom where he has been taken, and, incidentally, make peace between the two kingdoms.

The novel is great fun. It seems to be aimed at late primary level, but doesn't talk down to its young readers; the language is intelligent and witty, the jokes funny. Like Geoffrey McSkimming in his Cairo Jim Chronicles, the author somehow gets away with having adult protagonists. There's something comic-book about the entire thing, but that doesn't matter. It works. I suspect that sooner or later child readers will be demanding to know who the heroes' families are (we know about Gozo, but not the adults), where they come from and, perhaps, how old they are. At some stage, the author will have to start filling in bits. Mind you, after about ten Cairo Jim novels, we still don't know as much about Jim as we do about the villain, so perhaps Hirsch will also continue to get away with it.

Meanwhile, buy this one for your school library or your child, or, what-the-hey, for yourself!

Sue Bursztynski

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