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Fergus Crane: Far-Flung Adventures    by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell order for
Fergus Crane
by Paul Stewart
Order:  USA  Can
David Fickling Books, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell travel into a new series with Fergus Crane: Far-Flung Adventures. The tale begins on School-Ship Betty-Jeanne. When the 4 p.m. bosun's whistle signals the end of the school day, Fergus is the first to run down the gangplank. He passes street vendors, shops, and the theater, to reach the Archduke Ferdinand Apartments. Lucia Crane and her son live in one of the tiny apartments, amongst friendly, colorful neighbors. Mum works at Boris Biederbecker's bakery, as well as for a mail-order company.

Unable to afford the costly local education, Mum home-schooled Fergus until the age of nine. One fateful day the Betty-Jeanne sailed into the harbor, and Headmaster Smollett offered scholarships to Fergus and others. Kids selected had to be small and athletic. Curiously, Smollett refers to students as shipmates, landlubbers, and scurvy dogs. They refer to him as Captain Claw, because of his metal-clawed right-hand. The teachers are unusual. Mr. Spicer in geography instructs them about caves and 'potholing for beginners'; Mrs. Blood in science is a fan of gunpowder and cannons; while gym teacher Mr. Woodhead sports an eye-patch and tattoos, and sends them to crawl through holes and tunnels.

On three successive nights, a flying silver box delivers a message to Fergus. The first confirms his identity, the second asks five questions, and the third says, 'Fergus Crane You Are In Great Danger! I Am Sending Help, Signed, T. C. your long lost Uncle Theo.' The next night, Fergus spots 'a huge creature in flight, with great silvery wings beating silently as it swooped down the mountains ... a mechanical flying horse!' Climbing aboard, Fergus travels through the night and lands on a chalet lawn. He's greeted at the door by 'a dapper, black and white penguin', and escorted through rooms filled with contraptions like a 'bookcase re-arranging its shelves'.

Meeting Uncle Theo, Fergus learns of the Crane family history and their inventions - including the planting and tending of Macadacchio trees, which produce delicious nuts (the kind Mum uses in her baking). Fergus is asked to perform a dangerous task. He is taken by the Flying Horse on a journey of great discovery. While Fergus is away, the Betty-Jeanne sails out of the harbour with his friends aboard, supposedly on a school vacation trip. Fergus must rescue his friends from the motley crew of teachers, headed for a volcano that houses caverns full of precious gems.

Stewart and Riddell's new adventure is simple in plot and understanding, obviously geared for a younger audience than their Edge Chronicles. Riddell's many illustrations are expressive, with close-up portraits of each cast member (though most of the characters named within these initial pages end up not playing any role in the story). Though it starts slowly, this is a hearty story for the younger audience.

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