The class book review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark, by Dave Rudden

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Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark
Author: Dave Rudden

Publisher: Puffin

Teacher review

Dave Rudden writes brilliantly: his sentences are full of surprises, his ideas are shiny and fluid or sharp and shocking. He jabs at you with his language choices and makes you sit up and think, “Crikey!” He puts you deep inside the characters.

This book reads beautifully: it keeps moving quickly between places, people, events, strangeness. You get thrown around and left a bit dizzy – in a good way.

I love how much Rudden cares about Denizen, his protagonist, whose name fits because he is always somewhere between alien and belonging. This 13-year-old is unassuming, and considers that he is not special. But, of course, he is.

So much humour sits in the bits between his courage and his throwaway, modest lines. The dialogue is brilliantly written, as you would expect from a writer from Dublin, a city full of the very best conversation.

Denizen sets off, the car driving into silence, driving into questions, leaving behind the orphanage where he has lived since the age of 3, and his best friend Simon. The reader is keen to travel with him. We zoom along in the darkness. This book has pace.

Rudden is brave with words and constructs original similes. When Denizen is hurt, or in a car crash, or feels sick or the pull of violence, it’s evoked brilliantly. Rudden takes you inside Denizen’s body, so you can feel the surge of fire too. Magic (and its ensuing pain) travels through an iron palm, creates phantom aches, scalds the mind, and crackles as comfort.

The reader is shown how it is to live with magic: at once a power, a source of the authentic self, and a potential disability. Holding spells in the head without burning your brain out is a brilliant idea. When Denizen says his first spell, leaving him close to death, you feel it as he hits the pavement. You fall down with him.

The chapter where we meet the Emissary of the Endless King is very cool. I liked this chapter a lot. The slightly creepy sea setting took me back to The Ancient Mariner; the empty armour made me see the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

This is a great book. There are surreal bits and magical bits and clockwork bits. The knights live on Seraphim Row and are armed like archangels. There is a great amount that is biblical in their self-sacrifice against the Dark. And then everything is made lighter by the humour, which makes the characters breathe real air, jump off the page, use their gifts, and move.

Boys and girls (aged 11+) are going to love this book, but boys are really going to love this book – and that is just great. It will set them off on the trilogy (two books follow this one) and we all know how wonderful it is to see the flame of reading ignited and continuing to burn.

“You said this was a war, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, who’s winning?”

What child or young adult isn’t going to want to be fighting on the right side of this war?

Pupil reviews

Please see the TES page for the video reviews.

“This book represents the 1 per cent of teenage fiction that is not overwhelmingly preoccupied with death and inappropriate love affairs,” says Year 8 pupil Eleanor. “Finally, a real writer who isn’t dead.”

“A brilliant work of literature,” says Year 8 pupil Henry.

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