Book review: The Smoking Hourglass by Jennifer Bell

I’d been looking forward to this one so much and (spoiler!) I was absolutely right to be.

Ivy and Seb Sparrow have been secretly using an uncommon bag to try to track down Selena Grimes, as yet undiscovered leader of the evil Dirge organisation. When the bag takes them to Norway and they glimpse the smoking hourglass symbol, the race is on to discover its meaning and make sure that Selena doesn’t get her hands on the power contained within The Jar of Shadows. The only way to save Lundinor is to win a game of the previously outlawed and often fatal Grivens. Easier said than done when you don’t know the rules, and not everyone is playing fair anyway.

The action kicks off straight away; there’s no tedious recapping or slow start, we (along with Ivy and Seb, of course) are immediately travelling via magical sack and discovering dead bodies, and the excitement just doesn’t stop. There are twists and turns in storyline, new and interesting characters, all interspersed with imaginative descriptions of the uncommon-ness of everyday objects.

The inventive world of the Uncommoners is the best thing about this book (and its predecessor, The Crooked Sixpence). This is the part that really captures my imagination and is sure to capture the imagination of its target audience (aged 9-12). Lundinor now features pretty high on the list of literary worlds I would like to live in because:

  • I’m pretty sure that skyriding would never get old (flying on old hoovers, mops and brooms)
  • I have GOT to get me a taste of Hundred Punch (“a hundred flavours, a hundred ways to make you smile”)
  • Scratch – the jumble-speeched bicycle bell – is the friend that everyone needs in their life.

And don’t even get me started on the Hobsmatch! This is the mix and match clothing that the Uncommoners choose that is suited perfectly to the wearer’s personality: sensible lawyer during the week that just can’t resist a good disco at the weekend? Sounds like a neon tutu and sweat bands paired with a pinstripe waistcoat and jacket could be just the thing for you! And why not? I’m desperate to know what outfit would be chosen for me.

The overlaying of the uncommon world on ours is brilliantly done, making the usual seem unusual and magical, reminding me very much of the way that the world of a certain lightning-shape scarred wizard captured my heart 20 years ago. I’m very much hoping there are another 5 books in this series to look forward to as well, not least because the ending hints at some very exciting adventures to come.

Whether you’re 9, 19 or 59, you really should know all about the Uncommoners.

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