These titles come out under Oxford’s admirable new imprint Super-Readable Rollercoasters, aiming with fellow publishers Barrington Stoke to provide exciting stories told in accessible language. Both work well, as is only to be expected from such accomplished authors. Marcus Sedgwick brings the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight up to date when a school geography field trip loses two of its members while exploring a sinister deep, dark cleft running through a high-sided rocky valley. Dangerous developments follow, with quotations from the original poem included. These may be baffling to some readers perhaps but possibly magical to others who have never seen anything written in Middle English before. Finally working out what really happened doesn’t quite work, and Sedgwick might here have taken a leaf out of Joan Lindsay’s somewhat similar Picnic at Hanging Rock, and left everything ultimately unanswered and mysterious. But there is plenty to remind everyone that Sedgwick is one of the best children’s and YA authors we have.
Tanya Landman’s Lightning Strike reads as if it were written in white-hot anger, and why not? The appalling story of the London Match Girls’ 1888 struggle against miserly pay and unbearable work conditions is a reminder that virtual slavery once applied to many Britons too when the only alternative to working in disgusting conditions was starvation and homelessness. Details of the cancerous ‘phossy jaw’ that afflicted so many of these factory workers remain as shameful as ever. When young Eliza finally decides to put things right through strike action, every reader will be wishing her well. Strident at times, tub-thumping at others but always highly readable, this story still needs to be told, especially given that factory conditions in some other countries now selling goods into the UK can sometimes seem almost as bad.