We’ve all seen the books on the shelves that proclaim gaily that “If you like Enid Blyton, you’ll love this!” and if you’re anything like me and Fiona, we approach these books with caution. In experience the books that proclaim to be like another author’s work seldom deliver.
Now when Helen Moss’ books crossed my path, there was no sticker claiming her to be like Blyton anywhere in sight, but I was stuck by the Blytonesque nature of the blurb and the title. The 14th book, The Mystery of the Phantom Lights was handed back to me during my work at the library and immediately I took an interest. The book even made it home with me. But being the way I am, I decided that the first thing I needed to do, was read the first book, The Mystery of the Whistling Caves.
I was expecting something a bit more modern than Blyton’s period adventures, but the covers looked exciting. I was looking forward to diving in, only to find, when the book arrived that it was quite short, which you would expect from a children’s book. It had lovely short chapters and the action started quickly.
The two boys, Scott and Jack Carter are deposited on an island called Castle Key with their great Aunt Kate, while their father swans off to go and dig up a lost city in the middle of Africa for the summer. The boys are convinced that this is going to be a very boring holiday as here appears to be nothing to do in Castle Key.
The boys discover the castle and its upcoming exhibit of Saxon treasure but don’t seem that thrilled by it until later. On their way around the island they come across a girl about their own age called Emily Wild, and her dog Drift.
The story has a lot of easy to make parallels to the Famous Five, and the Five Find Outers (although in my mind this link isn’t quite as strong). For a start the cover of the book reminds me more about a Famous Five book, the castle in the background which is reminiscent of Five on a Treasure Island and Kirrin Castle sitting proudly on the island in the bay.
The stories in these two novels are quite similar as well, both including secret passages and missing treasure. The Mystery of the Missing Cave does have more of a Five Find Outers feel at times because there is a lot of mystery solving on the part of the children, as Emily Wild wants to be a spy. So like Fatty, with her dog Drift, trying to solve the little mysteries of everyday life, and is super excited when the Saxon treasure goes missing and she has a real case to solve.
The story itself is probably meant for what I considered the right age for The Famous Five, which is about eleven. I would say that these books are probably most likely to be a stepping stone from Enid Blyton to other authors, and I certainly shan’t hesitate to recommend them at work. However there are issues; they are modern, so modern technology such as computers and mobile phones do figure in the collecting of information and for keeping in touch. No mysterious telegrams or intriguing letters for these children.
The adventure is a fine one, but because of my love of Blyton’s Famous Five, I do feel that there is at least one character missing from the action – another young girl for a start. Emily is a very determined girl, who does remind me of George except for the fact that she doesn’t go around telling everyone that she is as good as a boy and needs to be called by a boy’s name. Out of the three characters I warmed to her most, because Scott and Jack Carter really did nothing for me.
Jack, the younger brother is clearly a whiny kid, as he seems to have a problem with everything. Scott is the older brother and is more level headed and bit of a drip when it comes to danger. Emily is perhaps the one I find most interesting if a bit two dimensional.
Of course I do need to point out that this book is for children and I am an adult, but for me The Mystery of the Whistling Caves lacks a certain magic that Blyton’s Famous Five have.
While Blyton’s books have stood the test of time and have made it through ups and downs of changing societies while still maintaining their charm, whereas even with as little modern technology included in The Mystery of the Whistling Caves, the books might find it hard to survive as Blyton’s have done.
Another thing I feel I need to say about the books is that, there is an over use of italics. I don’t think there is s page in the book where italics are not used in some form or another. I also feel in this case that the emphasis can come off in the wrong place. A couple of sentences I felt lost their impact because of the italics.
Overall, I did enjoy the book, as long as I wasn’t comparing it to Enid Blyton, but when you put the books side by side, the first book of the Adventure Island series pales in comparison. There is none of a Blyton’s magic in the first book, although I am trying not to judge as I have only read one book and the others may pick up. I brought the next two books yesterday actually, while I was at Seven Stories in Newcastle, and am kind of excited to read them.
The question remains however, is it good to claim that if you like one author you will love this book? See it’s probably a very good for marketing especially if you’re a parent with a child who likes a particular set of books and you want to wean them off reading the same books over and over, but is it really a good thing; like me, could you set too much store, and potentially, be disappointed by the book in your hand. Quoting Fiona (directly) she thinks that “they’re inevitably disappointing,” because a sticker like that carries so much promise.
I think these Adventure Island books by Helen Moss would do well without the need to have the sticker proclaiming that “If you like Enid Blyton, you’ll love this!” because they are good enough to stand on their own. So my advice is, be wary of the books that claim “If you like Blyton, you’ll love this” because for a hard-core Blyton fan, they have the very real potential to be disappointing.
P.S You really all should give Helen Moss’ Adventure Island series a go, maybe unlike me, you’ll find more magic in them.