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The Midnight Guardians - Ross Montgomery

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

This review has been updated for my part in the blogtour in advance of the release of this brilliant book on 5th November 2020. Many thanks to Walker Books for the advance proof of the book to review, and for asking me to take part.

Love, loss and London during the Blitz...

What a book...I loved it! I posted the first version of this review back in July when I was lucky enough to first read it, and am still thinking about this story now we're in in November, having re-read it again last week - it really is that good!!

A magical mix of action, magic and adventure, and a moral tale about love, courage and memories conquering darkness and evil, I cannot wait to use this in my classroom - it will have the children hanging on every word - I was! It also feels like a book that fits particularly well at this moment in time when we all face the prospect of heading towards a Christmas potentially having been separated from those we love, and in need of hope and the idea of a brighter future...

Sometimes when it's darkest,
Hope shines the brightest...

The main character, a wartime refugee named Col, and his 'Guardians' (3 imaginary friends: a badger, a tiger and a knight - conjured up by his late father to help him chase the 'Bogies under the bed' away in his younger years, and continuing to protect him from evil even now) run away from his cold, seemingly heartless Aunt Claire with whom he's been billeted as a refugee. The journey that follows is a desperate race across the country and against time to save his sister (still in London) from a German bombing raid, foreseen in an apocalyptic vision conjured for him by the evil Midwinter King who is seeking to rule the spirit realm, cross over and defeat The Green Man, bringing eternal winter to the world....PHEW!

Confused? It does seem like a bit of a mixture of genres - an evacuee story a la 'Goodnight Mr Tom', and more recently 'The Skylark's War' and 'Letters from the Lighthouse'; a giant big-cat guardian, fighting knights and other-worldly battles with creatures a la 'Narnia' and the 'Lord of the Rings' adventures, and a Midwinter King reminiscent of Game of Thrones 'Night King', complete with his own skeleton horse, army of giants, dark-metal sword, and the threat of bringing winter, death and destruction to the human realm...

In short, it has all elements of the classic quest, and utilises these to great effect, combining them as we join the characters, getting to know their back-stories as the journey progresses and the inevitable, face-to-face climatic confrontation between good and evil occurs...

There is plenty of action and drama - dark danger, thrilling chases and vicious fights - but lots of laugh out loud humour too (Gog and Magog the arguing giants are great - I can't wait to read their parts aloud in class!). There is no shying away from themes of sorrow, sadness, tragedy and loss - Col's mum and dad, and the missing family of Ruth, a Jewish girl who joins his runaway team, to add into the mix of talking animals and size-changing tigers. But it works, the pacy, action-packed plot making you feel the desperation and empathy for the characters in their urgent race to London.

I particularly enjoyed the extracts from wartime newspapers that preceded many chapters, the tension heightened by the warnings of blackouts, incendiary devices and collapsing buildings, and adding a touch of historical fact and reality to the otherwise fantastical tale. The added nastiness of an incident in the Underground after the final battle, with an ugly character and his sadly still-held today views shows Ross Montgomery is not afraid to address and highlight challenging issues: it provides a welcome opportunity to use this text as a prompt for discussion of some serious and challenging issues such as racism and the treatment of strangers (sadly still as present in society today as they were back then) as well as using it as simply a great classroom reader in it’s own right.

There has been a lot of hype and excitment around this novel, prior to its lockdown-induced put-back-until November release, with praise and online adulation from reviewers such as myself (lucky enough to first read this several months ago in the Summer) alongside other children's literature luminaries such as Katherine Rundell, Piers Torday and Sophie Anderson - none of them shy of a terrific, tall tale themselves! This particular tall tale deserves all the praise it's been getting though - it too, is absolutely terrific. As I said, I loved it, and can't wait to share it in school...I have no doubt it's going to be a classroom favourite!

I found out this week that The Midnight Guardians has also been named (and deservedly so!) as Waterstones Children's book of the month for November - congratulations, Ross!!

Thanks to Walker Books for the ARC (pictured) and NetGalley for the advance e-copy - I'm so glad I didn't have to wait until November, but for those of you that did - enjoy!

Watch the fab video promo for the book here:

Websites and Twitter links:

Twitter: @WalkerBooksUK

Twitter: @mossmontmomery

Once again, Thanks to Rebecca at Walker for this opportunity and the proof copy of #TheMidnightGuardians

Review by Rich Simpson (Twitter/Instagram: @richreadalot) November 2020

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