By Author / Illustrator
Paperback / softback
A new adventure series about the pivotal moments of discovery through the ages, bringing the past to life with a generous helping of fantasy, humour and delightful, black and white illustrations.
Shaman by name and shaman by nature - Billy just hasn't found his magic... yet. His selfish, globetrotting parents abandon him for yet another summer in Charles Darwin's strange, museum-like house, where Billy stumbles across a 200-year-old giant talking tortoise named Charles Darwin, by the famous man himself. Charles D, the tortoise, knows every inch of the house and every artefact in it, and he's keen to help Billy realise his powers and set him on the path to adventure.
A beautifully carved Inuit ivory necklace is the first object that whisks him back in time to the shrieking chaos of an Arctic blizzard to meet its rightful owner, a girl called Ahnah, her shape-shifting grandmother and the mysterious explorer Pytheas.
When his thoughtless parents leave him at Charles Darwin's house for the holidays, Billy Shaman is unhappy, but not surprised. Every summer, they set off - separately - to explore the world, leaving their son behind. But this time, things turn out very differently when Billy encounters a 200-year-old giant talking tortoise called Charles Darwin, once companion to the great man himself. This meeting awakens the shaman in Billy and he finds himself drawn by a mysterious white fox to the room which houses the Inuit Collection. Here, he meets Ahnah, an Inuit girl, and the Greek explorer, Pytheas, and is set on his path of becoming a different type of explorer - one that returns museum objects to their original owners.
There is so much packed into this slender book! Told through the voice of Charles Darwin - the tortoise, not the explorer - there is plenty of humour and action here, but The Rage of the Sea Witch also raises some serious points to reflect upon, making it a perfect addition for any work about explorers - perhaps as a guided reading text - as well as a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Through Ahnah, the reader is introduced to some elements of Inuit culture. The objects on display in the museum take on personal meaning as their owners become 'real', raising questions about where these objects really belong and the actions of explorers. Darwin's home is a 'house full of stolen things…that want to return home' and Billy is a new kind of explorer, on a mission to see this done.
Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea and marine animals, is also introduced and may inspire readers to explore these myths for themselves. The story also introduces Pytheas, a geographer, explorer and astronomer from the Greek colony of Massalia. As he speaks to Billy and Ahnah, he tells of his journeys, showing objects he has gathered on his travels.
Charles Darwin - the tortoise - is a really interesting character in the story as, whilst telling Billy about his past, he ponders his relationship with the human Darwin. I really look forward to seeing which exhibits from Darwin's house Billy will feel compelled to return to their owners next and (like many readers, I am sure) am keen to visit Darwin's home for myself!
176 pages / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 7+
"I want to tell you the story of Billy Shaman, because if I don't tell it, nobody else will." I absolutely loved this intriguing, quirky and stylishly written adventure story. From that opening line to the starkly compelling black and white illustrated front cover and inside images, I was hooked. Despite the narrator's proclamation that no one else would tell the story of Billy Shaman, the reader knows that his story must be something extraordinary and worth hearing. I was instantly captivated and also quite sorry for Billy who, in that one sentence, seems to be a character no one shows any interest in at all.
Reading The Rage of the Sea Witch was like stepping into a slightly twisted, off-centre world. It felt reminiscent, to me, of the darker adventure tales that I love - the Lemony Snicket stories or Neil Gaiman's Coraline, for example. Subtlety but thrillingly strange.
Left yet again, by his selfishly adventurous parents for the summer, Billy has another lonely holiday ahead, this time in a strange museum-like house that once belonged to Charles Darwin. With only the fantastically named caretakers, Mr and Mrs Cript, for any company, it seems like a miserable, isolated few weeks ahead for Billy. He wanders from room to room and around the garden and there the reader discovers just how unusual this story is going to be, when the narrator's voice is revealed as Billy befriends a giant tortoise, once the companion of Mr Darwin himself.
In the dead of night, Billy's fervent imagination begins to feel the spirits of Darwin's unusual collection around him. Exhibits seems to breathe, specimens seem to stir… this 'night at the museum' is where Billy Shaman's adventure and true nature really begins. At the door of the Inuit Collection, a freezing wind blows and Billy is whisked back in time like a pyjama-wearing intrepid explorer. He meets characters from the past, makes friends with Ahnah from the Inuit tribe, and is shown the ways of another time, culture and mysticism. It is the most unbelievable journey he has ever been on. Is Billy Shaman (so plain he never even had a nickname) an actual Shaman after all?
I adored this book. Billy's adventures just entranced and delighted me. When the Inuit past is brought into Billy's present day world, there is a wonderful series of events to enjoy. From Billy and Ahnah's obvious wonder and inquisitiveness about their worlds meeting, to the adults (the inept detectives are comic masterpieces), who cannot comprehend awhat is happening in this previously quiet, dusty old house filled with forgotten past discoveries from around the world. It is just such a joy to read; brilliant Billy Shaman with the world at his fingertips, it seems. I cannot wait to see what other exhibits call out to him next.
176 pages / Reviewed by Jennifer Caddick, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 7+