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Children’s Fiction of 2008: The Island of Mad Scientists by Howard Whitehouse

Posted by Sherry on 11/20/2008 in 2008, Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards, General |

Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man and a Monkey in the series The Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbone.

The subtitle just about says it all. This book made me laugh out loud and reminded me of M.T. Anderson’s series of Thrilling Tales (See my review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen) and of a Little Orphan Annie cartoon story and of the movie version of Jules Verne’s Around the World the World in Eighty Days, among other things. (It’s a book full of allusions and reminders.) The setting is Victorian England, or rather Scotland. The pace is frenetic. The characters are:

Emmaline Cayley, a thirteen year old pioneer of aviation,
Rubberbones aka Rab aka Errand Boy aka Robert Burns, a bouncing boy with “indestruckable” physique,
Aunt Lucy Butterworth, the Best Sort of (very large) Aunt,
Lal Singh, a mysterious and heroic butler,
Professor Ozymandias Bellbuckle, a mad scientist from Georgia, USA,
Princess Purnah, a royal personage, also thirteen years old, daughter of the late Mir of Chiligrit (somewhere in Central Asia),
The Collector, insane, obsessive yet organized kidnapper of eminent scientists,
Samuel Soap, a master of disguise,
Hrecules and Titch, little thug and Big Thug,
Angus, a Scottish automaton,
and several other assorted minor characters and cameo appearances including Sherlock Holmes, Queen Victoria, Harry the Hobo, Maisie the cat, and several mad scientists in various stages of madness.

With such a cast, the author could afford to throw them all into peril and have them chase each other all over the British isle and run into each other at such inopportune moments as fortune and a loose plot would allow. It all makes for a lot of fun, especially since Princess Purnah never learned to speak English properly and says things like, “Here is weapony for smitings, Auntilucy. I go now. Slay thee many policishes with mighty blows of umbrelly!” Meanwhile, Emmaline tries to keep Professor Bellbuckle from the inordinate use of explosives, while Rubberbones and Lal Singh settle in on the island of Urgghh, a haven for mad scientists off the northern coast of Scotland.

I gather that The Island of Mad Scientists is a sequel to The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken, the first misadventure of Emmaline and Rubberbones in which Emmaline and Princess Purnah escape from a school run by the infamous Mrs. Malvolia Wackett. The second in the series is called The Faceless Fiend: Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife. And there is more than a hint toward the end of the book that this third tale might not be end of the mad misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones. Still this book stands on its own quite well and might just induce me to find a copy of books one and two in the series.

Recommended for fun and frivolity.

Other blogger reviews:

Melissa at Book Nut: ” . . . this book is a grand romp. Hilarious, milk-snorting-through-nose funny, I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun reading. It’s full of grand asides, amusing language, silly situations… everything a comic novel should have.”

Educating Alice: “In the witty alternate history tradition of Joan Aiken, but with a distinct feel all of their own, these books are a delight to read.”

Mr. Whitehouse’s blog.

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