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Lion Boy
Zizou Corder
Dial Books, 352 pages

Lion Boy
Zizou Corder
Zizou Corder is Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young, whose names are too long to fit on the front of a book. Louisa is a grown-up and has written five grown-up books. Isabel is a kid and has written mostly schoolwork. The original Zizou is Isabel's lizard, only he spells it Zizu. Lionboy is their first novel -- the first of a trilogy. They all live in London. Only one goes to school.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


'"It's not your motives or intentions that I'm worried about," he said. "It's your methods. How on earth are seven lions going to hide in Venice? Or stow away on a boat? That hasn't a chance of success. And your parents... I'm very worried, Charlie. I don't see how you can succeed in any of this."'
Written by a mother and daughter using a name based on a pet lizard, this is the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk the language of cats. Charlie, whose mum is English and dad is African, moved to England when he was a baby. Not long after an incident where a leopard scratch -- and exposure to cat blood -- gave him his special power. In the post Peak Oil present, Charlie is privately educated, but well acquainted with Rafi Sadler, a local ne'er-do-well only a few years older than himself. When Charlie comes home from school to find his parents missing, the only clues are what the local cats tell him, and a strange note left by his mother. The latter leads to him being taken into the care of Rafi Sadler. But after one night in the thug's dingy flat. Charlie decides to run away, in search of his parents.

This initial lack of credibility sets the tone for what is to come. The authors take a fair, if not too original idea, and turn it into something that is hugely disappointing and politically correct to an almost painful degree. A prime example is when Rafi is attempting to recapture the runaway Charlie, and asks people if they've seen 'a brown boy.' As if black is a dirty word. No British youth with Rafi's background would ever use such a phrase. Worse by far is the frequent, nanny-like occurrence of meaningless swear words substitutes; Bliddy, plackett, sniking, crike and graspole. I can understand not wanting to include profanity, but there are enough real words in the English language that could have been used, without resorting to nonsense. Then there are problems of continuity, and clumsiness. The latter coming when Charlie boards a circus ship named Circe, which he remembers is pronounced Sirky. When in fact Circe, the name of a Greek goddess, is pronounced sûrsê. Either this is poor research or deliberate misuse, neither of which should've made it past the editor.

As Charlie's adventure proceeds, I found it increasingly hard to believe that a boy from a fairly sheltered, middle-class background could do the things he does. I'm not talking about his special abilities, but the street smarts required to escape captivity, make his way across a city, lie to the police, and join the crew of the circus ship. Early on we're told that Charlie's teacher is someone named Brother Jerome, yet at no point are we made aware that this tutor has even realised that Charlie is missing. Ditto Charlie's friends, relatives and the authorities. Similarly, Charlie's kidnapped parents are supposed to be top research scientist, on the verge of a major breakthrough, so it seems very strange indeed that nobody is shown to be concerned by their disappearance.

There are a couple of good points in LionBoy's favour. The best are the cats, who are more interesting and plausible than the human cast, and often get better dialogue. The cats clandestine associations with Charlie give a glimmer of something more worthwhile to come, as this trilogy progresses. The same is true of the murky conspiracy which resulted in Charlie's parents being snatched. There's an element of authenticity about it, which if written well, could yet form the basis of a good yarn by the time book three arrives.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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