Monday, 5 March 2012

Under the Mountain

I was looking forward to reading this book for quite a while. I knew that it was one of my 1001 reads, and so bought a copy on my last trip to New Zealand over a year ago. I don't know a lot about New Zealand children's literature it must be said, well not much beyond Hairy Maclary, and I am trying to learn more about New Zealand literature generally. I am married to a kiwi and I do get the opportunity to visit every year or two, so it's nice to seek it out. 

Maurice Gee's Under the Mountain is credited with heralding a new age of quality children's books in New Zealand. Maurice was already a successful writer of fiction for adults when he wrote this book in 1979, the first of his books for children. Here was a story clearly set in New Zealand, indeed the beautiful Auckland harbour and surrounds are not only the setting for the story, but an essential component of it. So much so that there is even a map of the city before the story even starts.  Auckland sits astride the Auckland Volcanic Field, which is thankfully dormant. This volcanic field shapes the topography of the city, the beautiful harbours, Mount Eden and Rangitoto being the most obvious markers. 

Auckland from Sky Tower

I wasn't expecting a straight-out science-fiction story, but that is what we have here. And it's a good one. Rachel and Theo Matheson are 14 year old red-headed twins visiting Auckland to stay with relatives for a holiday. But they aren't ordinary twins of course. In the Prologue we learn that something happened when they were three. They wandered off one day and spent a cold night in the forest. They should have died. But they didn't, they were saved by a mysterious encounter with an old man. We learn that they are the chosen twins, "but will they be grown in time?"

Rangitoto from Sky Tower

Under the Mountain is a compelling page turner. Once the story gets going you are hooked very quickly and the action is faced paced. Urging you on to read just one more chapter. 

Rangitoto from the water

There are quite big parallels with our current bedtime reading. My son and I have been reading Michael Scott's series of fantasy novels, which starts off with The Alchemyst. Those books too have a set of twins with special powers as the main characters. The twins in the Alchemyst, also a boy and a girl, have pure gold and silver auras. Here, our twins have telepathy, and a heightened sense of smell, and something to do with a stone. Both sets of twins have to save the world from unseen and other worldly threats.

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