Page 45 Review by Stephen
"The Kraken? You don't believe in that old story, do you? It's just a legend of the sea, like the Bermuda Triangle, or the Night of the Seawigs."
Young Sika knows that the Night Of The Seawigs is real because she's almost certainly read this same creative team's award-winning OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, an honest-to-goodness David-Attenborough-style natural history documentary on the migratory lives of the Rambling Isles and the Night Of The Seawigs itself. You couldn't make it up - although they have.
Effortlessly inventive, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS had a lovely lilt to its language fully integrated into sweeping landscapes of sneaky Sea Monkeys, sarcastic seaweed and semi-sentient islands with a penchant for beautifying their barnets with shipwrecks and submarines then entering annual competitions to see who brings the best bling.
The competition is equally fierce in PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, and the imagination brought to bear on the book is no less thrilling. For if you thought that the Arctic was a vast expanse of featureless flat ice, oh no! This is a True Winter in which waves flash-freeze in a second and La McIntyre has created the most luminous icescapes out of giant, white, jagged and crystalline shards juxtaposed against backdrops of majestic, sweeping curves and aquamarines which manage to be both warm and sub-zero at once.
It's like the most modern, and really rather chilly outdoor cathedral!
Likewise, I swear you have seen nothing like this particular Icicle Palace which lies at the heart of this adventure and competition, but I'm not about to spoil that surprise. If you're imagining traditionally pointed spires and castellated walls (or really walls or any sort at all), then you are going to be out-invented. This is the land of the Northern Lights, remember, so light plays a significant part in its aspect. And in any case, truly magical monuments don't conform to mundane laws of physics.
We'll encounter the Yetis later on (as will Shen and Sika!) but McIntyre's monsters are always amazing, and when her Kraken awakes chaos is unleashed. Its eyes glare up from beneath the frigid depths as tentacles thrash across the page, tossing the yip-yapping sixty-six pugs this way and that as they gamely chomp down on its octopoid extremities!
I think I need to pull back. And probably breathe.
Cabin-boy Shen is abandoned in the Arctic by his captain when his ship, Lucky Star, proves unequal to its name by becoming frozen in the North. He's left stranded on the ice with its cargo of sixty-six pugs and a package of pullovers whose sleeves Shen snips off to slip over the excitable pooches like body muffs.
Without food or shelter their prospects look ever so bleak, but somehow they make it to the 'Po Of ice' outpost whose sign is missing an 's' next to a 't' then an 'f' later on. It is a very convenient store, just like all our own used to be.
There he finds Sika living with her Mum and her ancient Grandpa who once knew a True Winter just like this. They only come round once in a lifetime but, when they do, they catalyse a now-legendary, frantic race to the North Pole where materialises a magical Icicle Palace with its kindly Snowfather who grants the winning contestant their heart's desire.
Sika's grandfather took part in the last one and he came back with a treasure trove of stories (aren't stories cool?!), but unfortunately he didn't come first. The only thing he's fit enough to ride in this day and his age is a bed, so now it's up to Sika and Shen, her grandfather's whalebone sledge, and their sixty-six yip-yipping pugs.
If Sika wins, she would wish her Grandpa another lifetime. Shen's not sure what he wants because he's never had anything to call his own - not even a family. He was discovered, lost at sea, in an upturned umbrella. It could only have been worse had it been a handbag, buoyancy-factor zero.
So what of their competition?
Helga Hammerfest has two pet polar bears, Snowdrop and Slushpuppy: that's some serious, indigenous pulling power for you! Helga's grown a beard just to keep warm and that's seems admirably practical to me. Fetching too, I think. Our tongue-poking pugs will be ever so grateful now and then. Awwww!
You've already met Professor Shackleton Jones in the opening quotation, whose faithful assistant and robot SNOBOT are pulled along in his slick, sleek, scientifically sourced sledge by a crew of equally inorganic Woof-O-Tron 2000s. Then there's Mitzi Von Primm with her pack of four pink-dyed poodles who reminded me of Penelope Pitstop. Those poor poodles are so embarrassed!
There are many more besides, but the Arctic is a land so freezing that if you twirl your Machiavellian moustache it's likely to snap off in your fingers. That's precisely what happens to wicked Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling, so determined to win this Wackiest of Races that he comes off like Dick Dastardly. How low will he go? So low!
Reeve as ever brings his natural, lateral thinking to bear for it's not just Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling's moustache that feels the polar pinch:
"The night grew so cold that pieces of the Northern Lights froze and fell out of the sky. They lay strewn about on the ice, glowing gently."
Of course they did! And you know how it's said that Inuits have 52 different words for snow and ice? (They don't.) Here Sika and Shen discover 50 different sorts of snow!
"They crossed patches of blindsnow and patches of echosnow. They plunged through warbling drifts of songsnow and screaming mounds of screechsnow. They crossed a broad, rolling plain of slumbersnow, which snored and mumbled and farted like someone asleep under a huge white eiderdown."
Brilliant! Why not make your own snow up? I vote for nosnow which is a little more conceptual and certainly warmer or, if a consonant is swapped out, instead of turning up for work on time I lie cosily at home in bed.
There will also be werensnow, stinksnow and THERE WILL BE YETIS!
Yetis play a big, big, big, big part in this book! I don't want to give too much away but once again McIntyre excels herself by ensuring that each Yeti is an individual with different hair styles, braided beards, headgear and waistcoats. There may be a good reason why!
Reeve's even written them a song for you to sing along to, and I've already composed my own tune and rhythm. This is a book that demands to be read aloud at night to children, for there are so many different voices to do!
Oh, but this has a big heart of gold and a finale that's far from obvious which draws on much that has been so subtly introduced along the way.
I leave you with this truth, so infer what you will.
"All old things die in the end, but not stories. Stories go on and on, and new ones are always being born."