“Intelligent, professional, creative and worthy of a great deal of praise.”
Receiving these comments from such a respected reviewer as Perry Iles makes the slog worthwhile. My athlete, trained from birth, just came back with gold…
Kimi’s Secret – John Hudspith
Reviewed by Words With Jam columnist and reviewer Perry Iles
There’s a story in here, and a good one at that, a tale told for children and young adults that doesn’t patronise its audience or insult their intelligence. Here is a story that tells itself at its own pace, allowing the suspense to extend across several chapters as the characters develop and interact, a story that runs along as a series of set pieces filled with action and adventure. Kimi Nichols is a girl approaching her eleventh birthday. She lives in the Cornish town ofMousehole, and wants nothing more than a ride in a pink limo for her birthday. She’s a normal kid; wears pink, loves her mum and dad, but something very abnormal is about to happen to her, heralded by swarms – murders in fact – of crows (would a small group of crows be an attempted murder, I wonder?) and by a thunderstorm of supernatural proportions that appears to sweep her parents into oblivion.
So instead of a pink limo, Kimi gets Bentley, her tulpa, a composite of her own thoughts and emotions that she unknowingly conjured into being when she was threatened by a giant cat on Bodmin Moor at the age of five. Bentley is a beautifully imagined character, an original creation who shifts arbitrarily from youth to old age and back again on a whim, and who acts as the reader’s guide whilst simultaneously educating Kimi into the ways of her new life. This could be really clumsy and awkward, a fictional trope calling attention to itself in a way that screams of affectation, but Hudspith pulls it off superbly, with no convoluted dialogue or lumpy downloads of fact.
Bentley tells Kimi that her life has been a hollow sham, that she is in fact a premature Balancer, someone who helps hold worlds in harmony. Hold on a minute… we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Young boy with National Health specs and a lightning scar gets taken from normal surroundings and shoved through a station platform wall into the wonderful world of wizardry? Well maybe there are some similarities in approach, but Hudspith has the imagination and the ability to make this different enough to retain originality. Threatened by crows, protected by a mass of verminous tooth-fairies, Bentley and Kimi come to Heart, a land of fantasy brought to life very successfully in a style that is bright, imaginative and colourful. They are taken to Middling, a slightly Tolkienesque city surrounded by rocky ridges with an immense mountain as a backdrop. But Hudspith’s originality reminds us we’re not in Middle Earth. “Rocky terrain led to potholed fields which in turn met swampy marshland that smelled like sick”. The fairies, famoose as they’re called, subsist on rotten teeth, crunching them like crumbly rock. It’s not exactly Rivendell and Galadriel, is it? No, and all the better for it. Kimi’s Secret is a book that ploughs its own furrow through the landscape of fantasy as Heart comes to life, as a bewildered and frightened Kimi meets adepts, greylians, other balancers and Rehd, a simian police chief on a quad-bike. Kimi makes friends with Sue the Guy – a chef who one might imagine as a kind of gay Hagrid, and with Stella, a punky, attitudinal girl, described in a one-for-the-dads kind of way as an attractive, leather-clad balancer appointed as Kimi’s mentor. Like Bentley, Stella guides Kimi and the reader deeper into the landscape and traditions of Heart, and like Bentley, Stella’s role is well written and smoothly executed.
Such encounters and the tests Kimi is forced to go through keep the reader entertained. Somewhere in the background, as the pages go on, there’s a sense of “where’s the story gone” as the set pieces follow, each hot on the heels of the last, with no let-up in imaginative setting and description. Somehow I found myself well and truly immersed in the book before I began to think that something ought to happen soon, and just in time, it did. Kimi discovers that her parents appear to have been killed as they were on the verge of making an exciting discovery. To rescue them, Kimi, Bentley, Rehd the police chief, Sue the Guy and Stella must join forces and survive perilous and at times wonderfully nauseating encounters as they pursue Kimi’s parents and unravel the story in a series of revelations and adventures…
So the book has style, imagination, effortless scene-setting and characterisation and a fair chunk of originality going for it. And, as I said before, it’s a page-turner.
What doesn’t the book have? A good editor might have suggested bringing Kimi herself to life a little more. She has a slightly deformed hand: Little Hand she calls it, her left, which she can’t open properly and which gets pins and needles as a kind of harbinger or internal barometer of impending threat. This deformity sticks in the reader’s mind and is explained later as an aid to accuracy, but whilst Sue, Rehd and Stella are well-described, there’s a hole in the centre where an image of Kimi should be. A good editor might tell Hudspith to fill this hole, but even a good editor is sometimes wrong. The reader has to imagine Kimi, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we don’t really know what she looks like – an average English girl of around eleven, likes jeans and superman t-shirts, is affronted by the fact that the colour pink is outlawed on Heart. But on the other hand, it means we have to use our imagination. We’re used to living in a world where Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are indistinguishable from Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, but a little bit of mental exercise is no bad thing, surely. We can each keep a picture of our own Kimi-composite in our heads (until such time as they film the book, when someone from a famous drama school will no doubt stop us from this unpleasant chore of having to think for ourselves.) Hudspith says that this lack of pictorial description of Kimi was deliberate, and in the final analysis that’s no bad thing. Should we rely on the Disney takes for our mental pictures of Snow White and Cinderella? What about Peter and Lucy and Edmund and Susan from the Narnia books? Or Tracey Beaker? And don’t forget that Santa Claus never wore a red suit until the Coca Cola company put him in it. The fact that these characters have all been brought to life commercially shouldn’t prevent readers from having their own mental pictures of them. Pictures they drew themselves. So, go off into your head and make up your own Kimi. Hudspith’s given you the room, knock yourself out. And while you’re doing that, you might tip your hat in John Hudspith’s direction as a gesture of appreciation for not hammering a picture of a character to the wall of your own internal canvas.
In the end, the tale is brought to a very satisfying conclusion, a clever reworking of the start of the story that’s intelligent, professional, creative and worthy of a great deal of praise. It’s an ending that’s bold and, as far as this tale is concerned, finite. It’s not one of those wishy-washy American endings that leave everything open so that the writer can cash in on the sequel, and yet the ending of Kimi’s Secret promises more, promises a series by finishing with what’s basically the start of book two – a book which, if Kimi’s Secret is anything to go by, holds out a great deal of promise.
To conclude then, John Hudspith has the imagination and the style to keep his characters three-dimensional and his story interesting and eventful in a setting that’s well-realised and colourful. If Kimi’s Secret is the opening volume in a series, I can only wish the stories luck and hope that mainstream success can follow.
For me, the greatest challenge when composing a written piece, no matter how long or how short, is to make that final connection with reader. To be told that you have done that in an original and entertaining way is pure gold. Thank you, Perry Iles you made it all worthwhile!