The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone

A review of the children’s fantasy novel The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone.

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This is the first book of The Illmoor Chronicles by local author David Lee Stone. Although this book is aimed at 10+ children, not at my age group, I am always looking for books to recommend to my class at school.

The Ratastrophe Catastrophe is a re-imagining of the Pied Piper of Hamelin folk tale. The story is set in the corrupt city of Dullitch, at a time when many different races live together—barbarians, troglodytes, orcs, dwarves and many more. Although magic also exists it is actively discouraged, good and bad. The city is run by Duke Modeset, an unremarkable man and leader but an effective politician. Unfortunately, Dullitch has a serious rat problem. The Duke sends word throughout Illmoor, asking for help ridding the city of the giant rats, as none the city’s rat catchers or guards will tackle the rat infestation. The city council suggest hiring mercenaries. Enter Groan and Gordo, a strange pair of fighters, looking for a job. They are actually well-known to the Duke from their previous (disastrous) work for the city. Also, at this time, a young boy called Diek is making his way to Dullitch, after it was suggested that he leave his home village. He has an uncanny ability to attract all kinds of animals to follow him when he plays his flute, a gift he has recently acquired. Recruited by the Duke, Diek agrees to rid Dullitch of its rat problem, for a fee, of course. What follows is a series of chaotic exploits of Diek, Groan and Gordo, along with retired wizard Tambor and would-be thief Jimmy.

The Ratastrophe Catastrophe is a well-written and enjoyable story that gives a new slant onto a very old traditional tale. The characters are believable even though they are fantasy creatures. Groan and Gordo are an unlikely pairing, but Stone describes them and their relationship so well that any doubts are soon forgotten. Their fight scenes are amusing and well-thought-through. The dialogue is authentic (Groan speaks the way you think a barbarian would), rarely boring or unnecessary, and sometimes both funny and poignant. There are quite a few other well-described characters and the author has kindly included a cast list at the front of the book as well as a brief explanation of who the individuals are. The protagonist is both interesting and thought-provoking, causing the reader to go through a gamut of emotions concerning him, ranging from pity to justification.

The other main character is, of course, the Duke. Stone creates the picture of quite a melancholic man who is prepared to abdicate his responsibilities when things get tough. A really good politician, Modeset manages to turn the blame on everyone but himself. The setting of the city of Dullitch and Illmoor come to life the more you read. Dullitch really does sound like an awful place to live. Stone also provides a map of Illmoor at the beginning of the book which really helps to place things. There is no gratuitous violence and no really offensive language—I think he uses ‘sod’ once.

Some of the humour I feel would be more amusing to a younger audience and I would suggest this book to any reluctant young readers. Although this is a book not really aimed at my age group, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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