When I learnt that someone had written a book based on the teenage adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I was rather excited. I love Sherlock Holmes (adored the latest movie), am rather over-excited about the new Stephen Moffat Sherlock Holmes project and of course I love the books. I also love any period adventure children’s fiction (my work in progress is period children’s adventure), one of my favourites being Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series. So as you can imagine, another Young _ series, I was definitely excited. Which goes to show you that when you get too excited, you’re bound to be disappointed because this book is a bit, well, it’s ok, but it’s no Young Bond. However the early Young Bond’s weren’t as good as some of the later ones and I definitely think the same could be possibly said when more books are written in the Young Sherlock Holmes series, I’m sure they’ll get better. There is certainly a lot of promise; the period details are very atmospheric, written in that enjoyable way where I’ve felt like I’ve learnt something about a period whilst being entertained. There are also some rather good and relatively violent set pieces. Plus the supporting cast are quite likeable, as is Holmes himself. But this book did not have me turning the pages in the way Higson, Horowitz or Colfer can get me to turn pages, but I think a) I’m being way too hyper-critical, specially as I’m still in editing mode with my book, so books either induce me to want to get a pen out and correct them or send me to depths of paranoia that my work will never be that good and b) these books will only get better.
I don’t often review picture books here; maybe I should, there’s a constant danger of book related avalanche in the kids’ bedroom but Neil Gaiman’s Instructions wasn’t really bought for them, it was bought for me and Mr. Lacer. We have a tendency to read anything by Mr. Gaiman and thanks to his rapid rate of work and his large back catalogue, it’ll be a while before we run out of stuff to read (so far we’ve read all his novels and short story collections, we’ve read some of his comics but not Sandman and this is his first picture book we’ve got our hands on – I’m desperate to read The Wolves in the Walls).
Instructions, is well, a set of instructions for a character about to go on a journey, it is beautifully written in Gaiman’s very distinctive voice and features several things he’s featured in his work before; such as the ferryman and the twelve months around the camp fire. The art work by Charles Vess is beautiful to, the sort of pictures you can look at and find new detail in, time and time again. I particularly liked this page, a case of spot the fairy tale.
Boy Lacer (who at least sat and listened to the story, Girl Lacer took one look and refused to), was so transfixed by the little demons featured on one page fairly early on in the book, took the rest of the story to be the main character trying to escape from the demons and he seemed to be expecting the demons to pop up again at each page turn.
So, in summary Instructions is really a picture book for adults, I think there is a lot to put off the average child, as this book has quite an old fashioned feel compared to the brightly coloured, bold picture books that most children are brought up on these days. Instructions belongs to the category of picture books that (some) parents buy for their children feeling that their children should like it, when really there’s not much chance. However, I can imagine certain children would love this book; highly imaginative types that would be transfixed by the detail in the artwork and plan their own journeys over the map inside the front cover. So, really know the child you’re buying this for, if you are thinking of buying this for a kid or if you’re a Neil Gaiman fan, just buy it anyway.