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Crocodile Legion: A Roman Adventure

by

S.J.A.Turney & Dave Slaney

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Egypt, 117AD

There was a clang as something glinting and worth more than a year’s pay hit the floor and rolled off into a corner,

    ‘Inkaef!’

    ‘What?’

    A figure, tanned by the blazing Egyptian sun and dressed in a simple white skirt, turned in the darkness of the chamber, his torch held high.

    ‘Do we take the coffin?’

    ‘We take everything, Pashedu.’

The second figure, dressed much the same as the first, nodded in the darkness of the chamber, lit only by the flickering orange glow of three torches and the dancing reflections of that light on the gold and the gems that filled the room like the richest treasury on Earth.

    ‘I don’t want to touch the mummy, Inkaef. How can I take the coffin from around it without touching it?’

The white-skirted leader rolled his eyes, unseen in the gloom. ‘You could grow up, stop acting like a frightened baby and just do it!’

Inkaef bent back to the collection of small gold and ebony wood idols of the gods and stuffed them into the sack he held, which was already weighed down with loot.

   ‘What if we get caught?’ came another voice from near the mummy’s coffin.

   ‘Who by?’ snapped Inkaef. ‘We’re not going to get caught. Just get that coffin free and carry it outside. It’s made of enough gold to buy a small town.’

And so begins the Crocodile Legion.

Like it, you will.

Enjoy it, you will.

    Simon Turney has written this wonderfully evocative story for children aged between seven and twelve, and has used language that is both appropriate for the younger reader as well as for the older reader. The story rips along, carrying the reader through an engaging tale of danger and fear, with many light, comedic moments.

    The use of internal rhyme within some passages, brings a rhythm to the story,

    For example:

    ‘[…] Now load the loot and start moving things out.’

    He smiled up at the crocodile face looming in the gloom.

    Another example is:

    [….] rising puffs of dust into the sizzling air […]

    […] her most mischievous grin in the dazzling sunshine, […]

The younger child is generally drawn to rhythm and rhyme in stories; think about nursery rhymes, for example. Rhythm in a story is amplified through its timbre, if it is read out loud, as most children’s books tend to be. It can also be an aid to memory, so it is a useful device to use in children’s books. Although the book is aimed for the seven to twelve year old to enjoy, I feel that the younger child, below seven, could gain much from the story, too, whether they are endeavouring to read Crocodile Legion for themselves, or, indeed, having it read to them.

Keeping to the subject of language, there are a few words to which children will always hoot with laughter, and yes, some are included in the story. What words are they? I hear you ask, well; I will quote only one, so as not to pinpoint any spoilers, and I’ll put it in its context:

‘Makes you fart too,’ he laughed, ripping out a thunderous rumble close enough to Marcus’ head that he took a few swift paces along the veranda to be out of the smelly cloud.

It’s such a wonderful piece of indulgence in childhood humour, that it becomes that perfect nugget of snigger-value, which children love. And the ‘fart’ word never fails to make them laugh, whether it be a snigger behind their hands, or laughing out loud.

The story is accompanied by some extraordinarily detailed cartoons, by the very talented Dave Slaney, who also designed the book cover. There are thirteen cartoon vignettes throughout the book. I would have to say, at this point, that Dave Slaney has cleverly captured the essence of each character, together with superb detail. I would like to pinpoint some examples, and they are; the sheen on the soldier’s lorica segmentata; their helmets, too; and the eyes of each character are so expressive, that they hold the gaze momentarily. There is also a multitude of authentic detail in each cartoon, to draw the eye, and, perhaps, to chat about afterward, engaging the younger child further into the story, and its history, of which there is much. For me, together with the cartoons, the whole book equates to subliminal learning, almost by osmosis, so cleverly is the history woven within. The enlightening pieces of Egyptian history are disclosed seamlessly, as we accompany the group on their journey. It entices the imagination to wonder about their destination of the ancient city of Crocodilopolis.

When the group are told that they are, in fact, going to journey to Crocodilopolis, one of the legionaries, Gallo, by name, says, ‘Croco-what-a-lot?’ Which is probably what the young reader would be saying, reading it for the first time. And, further down the page, still being unsure of the word, later refers to it as, ‘Crocodile-oppollo-pops’, which has such a comical air to it, that it makes me smile every time I think about it. This is a really clever device, creating an equality between the reader and the cast within the book.

The story has been written with many a twist to it, and the journey towards that twist, hides the fact that it is coming. This book is cleverly conceived, and can only inspire children towards a love of ancient history, and with the addition of such wonderful cartoon work, the whole jells together, seamlessly.

If I were giving this book a Star Rating, then I would have no hesitation in awarding it Five Stars. Those stars would have been gained for a well written children’s book, which is absolutely packed with historical facts, adventure, danger, humour, and all stitched neatly together with perfect prose, which is dynamically written. This is a book, although written for children, can be enjoyed by any age. So the parent reading it to the child, the child reading it for themselves, or just picking it up for a great story. It works. On all levels, it works. I for one, can’t wait for the next book to come out.

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