Monday, 9 May 2016

Fleeced by Julia Wills

Fleeced by Julia Wills is the first novel in a trilogy about the ram who once was the proud owner of the famous 'golden fleece'. However, it doesn't really fall into the category of historical novel. It is actually a modern day adventure story full of drama, suspense and humour.

We are first introduced to characters from the Greek Underworld: ghosts from the Ancient Greek Myths. Aries (a ram) is disgruntled because Jason has stolen his precious Golden Fleece. He siezes the opportunity to return to Earth in an attempt to retrieve his fleece and he and his friend Alex are transported to modern day London. From this point on, the story contains all the elements you would expect from quest: drama, suspense, excitement and intrigue.

As a long novel, (almost 400 pages) it would suit most pupils in years 5 and 6. However, some pupils who are developing their reading stamina in year 4 would also enjoy reading this independently. Teachers may feel that a novel of this length is too long to read as a class text. Nevertheless, I would recommend it for individual/group reading. Each individual chapter is relatively short and fast paced. 

The main theme of the novel is friendship and loyalty. Throughout the story, the close friendship of Alex and Aries is explored, in particular Aries' perception of friendship. Pupils will be able to track how his character develops and pinpoint events which are critical to that development. If the text is used for group/guided reading, the discussions focusing on Aries' development would provide useful evidence for teacher assessment. 

The structure of the story is a quest and as you would expect, there are many events along the journey: some positive, others negative. Many of the Greek Myths themselves are quests and it would be interesting to encourage pupils to compare and contrast the structure of this modern day quest with one from Greek Mythology, in particular Jason and the Golden Fleece. Pupils could also make links with other contemporary stories about characters from mythology such as the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordon.

Julia Wills' style is interesting. The book is written in the third person and the author takes on the role of the omniscient narrator. However, rather than being the anonymous, unseen narrator, she becomes a character in the story. One who provides a commentary on events, useful snippets of information and humorous asides. You really do get the feeling that she is personally telling the story to you.

The detailed descriptions help the reader visualize the different settings. One of my favourites is that of Medea's shop. Although detailed, the descriptions aren't long and drawn out and do not distract from the pace of the story at all. Even, if the text is not being used as a class novel, any of these descriptions of setting can be used as models for writing. Other descriptions, such as in chapter 25 not only help you visualize the scene but also help you 'hear' it.

The book would complement a history topic of Ancient Greece, as not only do you learn about the myths but also about the architecture. Rose's mother works at the British Museum and as such Rose spends much of her time there. Chapter 7 describes in detail the exhibits in the Parthenon room of the museum and provides a short history lesson about the Elgin marbles. This is done in a very natural way from Roses's perspective and is not at all didactic. In the same way readers learn about important aspects of conservation and restoration.

The book is likely to appeal equally to both boys and girls, in that there are two protagonists: one male and one female plus of course Aries the ram. Also, the drama, action and humour ensure that readers are swiftly carried through the story which will help children who tend to lean towards shorter texts. Definitely, one for the class library.

Publisher: Picadilly Press
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978-1-84812-476-9

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