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The International Writers Magazine: Young Fiction Review

The Curse of the Toads by Rebecca Lisle
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN-13: 978-0340894477
Jade Harrison
The Curse of the Toads is the story of a boy who has just lost everything in the world that he holds dear and the confusion and loneliness that followed.


Set in 1682 when Reuben’s grandmother is hanged as a witch, Reuben is alone and scared that the villagers might hang him too. So he leaves his home and decides to try to make it on his own. However on the road he is picked up by Doctor Flyte and his assistant Baggs. However Reuben soon realises that the two aren’t the nice kind people he had first thought and that in fact Reuben is their prisoner. So the whole plot of this book is Reuben’s quest to escape from Doctor Flyte and Baggs and to get to his Grandmother’s family in Stonebridge.

There is a set pattern in the way that this book is set out. The chapters alternate between Reuben and Doctor Flyte in his present and Reuben and his Grandmother in his past. I found that this pattern became very repetitive and that as this continued I was less inclined to turn the page and start the next chapter. On the other hand when the two different parts of Reuben’s life came together around the middle of the book it was nice for the reader to be able to see the story just a little bit clearer. As a reader I felt like I was investigating the Reuben’s story, like a detective piecing together what happened at the scene of a crime.

From very early on in The Curse of the Toads I did notice that as a reader I was becoming so involved in the story and what would happen next to Reuben that I forgot that it was set in 1682. This was not a problem as the story made perfect sense, but very occasionally Lisle used a period reference such as the sewage running down the middle of the street in Longford. Which made me question why this was and then sudden remembered that the story was set in 1682, by this time I was out of the magic of the story and found it hard to get back into it and regain that feeling of being there in the middle of it .

So many times Reuben had the chance to run away from Doctor Flyte and Baggs and both Reuben and the reader could see that if he did the odds were on his side. But then there would be a twist in the story which would keep Reuben with Doctor Flyte and Baggs and the opportunity was lost. In the last five chapters of the book there was a new twist added into the mix, Reuben was Doctor Flyte’s son. At the end of the story this twist was undone and it was revealed, through Reuben’s train of thought, that Baggs was Doctor Flyte’s son and not Reuben. I found that this twist was predictable and guessed it from the moments just before Doctor Flyte had died, Doctor Flyte he had called out to his son to save him. I know that he wouldn’t be calling to Reuben as his son because he knew that Reuben didn’t believe that he was Doctor Flyte’s son, so why would he use that choice of word know that it would repel Reuben.      

This book makes good use of the conventions of children’s writing starting with the first chapter where everything reminds him of the hanging of his grandmother, therefore getting rid of the parental figure leave Reuben venerable and giving the story space to grow.  
© Jade Harrison May 2010

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