It wasn't until I was at home sorting through the box of books that I noticed this was a children's book -- but in my defense, it's a children's book in the way that the Harry Potter books are.
The similarities between Kerr's book and those by Rowling are many including that the series features elements of not fitting in along with the magic. Children of the Lamp features twins, John and Philippa Gaunt, from a wealthy family and loving home; but the message is still one of growing up and accepting yourself as you are -- and with the hope that magic is that something special about you which those well-meaning adults keep mentioning. And of course, there's mystery and adventure, full of fantastic possibilities. Which is to say that it's rather a good read for anyone who fancies a fantasy read.
Instead of being wizards, the Gaunt twins are descendants from a long line of Djinn, which is the good side of those beings called jinn (a being which most of us would call a genie), so like Potter and crew, the Gaunt twins must fight against evil.
I personally like the book, finding the story line to be as fantastic as any Potter tale and full of great Egyptian lore -- which means the book is more than some update of the typical 'genie in the lamp' story.
As an adult I particularly loved the British tone. The author, P.B. Kerr, is Philip Kerr, the British bestselling author of thrillers for adult readers, and the British voice is clear in this book. Think of me what you will, I do so enjoy a book which reads in an accent.
An excellent example, in part because one can not only hear the accent but the sneer as well, is this bit from page 25:
Mrs. Gaunt sighed and lit a cigarette prompting the twins to make some faces: They hated her smoking. It had always seemed like the least glamorous part of Layla Gaunt, especially in New York where people get more worked up about things like smoking than they do about guns.Ah, no American author could get away with saying that.
I remember reading that passage, flipping to the copyright page for the year, and thinking, My gosh, can the author say that in 2004?
I'm delighted it's there. But others aren't.
They think Kerr's use of smoke, smoking and smoking materials is endorsing smoking. I guess they can't see how Kerr has put in negatives regarding of the act of smoking, so I guess they cannot accept that the genie -- err, jinn, are beings born of smoke &/or fire. The history, along with the relationship between jinn and smoke, is clearly told in Kerr's book -- as well as the fact that humans suffer from such things. But I guess that's not good enough for some people; they fear that Kerr is romanticizing smoking.
I once would have believe these people to be the very same people who worried that humans reading the Potter books would harm themselves by trying to fly on Nimbus2000s and walking into train and subway station walls, looking for the platform for wizards -- but that was long before smokers became the new lepers. Which, I think, is part of Kerr's comments on page 25. At least this is, in part, why I find that passage, and others like it, so charming. Perhaps this is an inside joke that only Kerr and I share.
Then again, it may not be -- or Kerr caved -- for I see some commenting that the third book in the series has the smoking go up in smoke. Not that I've read the other books in the Children of the Lamp series; I just stumbled into this one at a book sale this fall.
In any case, I highly recommend the first book, The Akhenaten Adventure, and will be looking to get the others as well. If your kids like Potter and you want to keep them reading, get copies asap.
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