SNAKE RING AT RISK & Other Stories by John Holroyd. Book review

SNAKE RING AT RISK & Other Stories by John Holroyd, Matador, Leics, UK. £7.99 (UK) 59 ppb

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

It is said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, most of us do. The image on the front is, purportedly, designed to give the potential buyer and idea of what is inside. Thus a space-ship says SF, or a sword says Fantasy. Although the blurb on the back of this book says the stories are aimed at nine-year-old children, the cover doesn’t. The cover here, which is uncredited, is very stylish, and does fit with the title story, ‘Snake Ring at Risk’, but it doesn’t shout ‘children’s stories within’.

There are four stories within this slim volume, the first three being contemporary, the third a fantasy fable. Many children are not so much cruel as thoughtless, and they are just as likely to jump to wrong conclusions as adults. In ‘Pie And The Witch’ the narrator and his friends think the old lady that lives near the school is a witch, so they dare the new boy to knock on her door and run away. Things do not turn out the way they expect. They do, though, learn not to make assumptions. ‘Jack’s Revenge’ is a similar kind of story. Jack and his three friends are passionate about cricket. The problem is that when they get too enthusiastic the ball is likely to go into next door’s garden, and the man who lives there does not give balls back. When Jack’s brand new, leather cricket ball goes sailing over the fence, the boys plan to get their own back. Again, they haven’t thought out their plans properly and they have made untrue assumptions. Not surprisingly, things go wrong.

‘Like Nothing On Earth’ is a problem solving story. Sam has a fertile imagination and when he imagines his bed is a space-ship it becomes one and he is whisked away to the planet Anastasis. There he has to solve the problem of getting rid of a plague of giant snails and find a way not to accept his reward of marrying the Princess Amanda. Fortunately, Amanda has a good imagination, too.

The title story ‘Snake Ring At Risk’ is a fable concerning Thomas and Gerda who are happy living on a farm. Gerda has a ring in the shape of two snakes given her by Thomas’s grandmother. One morning she finds that one ruby eye has fallen out. As it is a magic ring, this is a sign of danger. A magician called Gruminax has set up home nearby and wants the ring. He is prepared to threaten and trick Thomas to get it. What he hasn’t factored into his plans is that the kindness of others can counter cruelty.

For children slightly younger than the age-group they are written for, these are appealing stories. What would make the book better would be a more child friendly cover and some black and white illustrations inside – one for each story.