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The Black Joke

373 pages6 hours


"Far off at the western edge of the world, where the green land meets the grey ocean and the wind never falters, Bodrach Nuwl, the Old Man of the Mist, rises a thousand feet above the sea. At his head the wind perpetually thunders, whipping the thin grasses and stunting the trees that lean and cling grimly with their ancient roots. He is so gigantic that each ledge and crinkle in his face is a little world in itself. On green, wind-blasted lawns the size of football pitches, whole populations of rabbits and foxes lead their lives perched in the air with no inkling of the outside world. Small crevices become great chasms, lined with trees growing from the rock itself, fed by ferny waterfalls and inhabited by finches and great dragonflies. Habitats here have no connection with the world at large. There are species of insect that exist nowhere else, and unknown pale orchids that thrive in cracks and crannies. Great caves loom open that from the sea must seem like the holes of sand-martins but in reality could swallow a small village and are inhabited by bats and blind snakes.

Behind the cliffs huddles a dismal little town. In the town is a church, and in the church are some pews. And under one of the pews is a boy, hiding from the Vicar."

Thus begins The Black Joke, which has been described as a cross between Treasure Island, The Railway Children and Deliverance. It is by turns exciting, amusing, charming, alarming, winsome, violent and strange - a rollicking read for adults with a childish love of adventure, and for children who aren't afraid of a few long words.
There's a skeleton in the tunnel, a pair of loathsome bullies in the classroom, a mysterious ship in the harbour and vague rumours about missing treasure. But ... pirates? Oh, come on, surely not. That would be ridiculous. You don't get pirates any more ... do you?
You will meet ...
... the fearsome Urethra Grubb, the worst woman in the world ...
... the emphatic Rosella Prettyfoot, who wears big boots and knows how to use them ...
... the sinister Trinity Teague, who disappeared and has now come back ...
... the odorous Billy Moon, and his mother Primrose who's no better than she should be ...
... and the slightly bewildered Pertinacious Potts and his annoying sister Fenestra, who have to make sense of it all and know that no good will come of it. Probably.

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