The International Writers Magazine: Childrens Books

A Suspicion of Toads/ The Curse of the Toads
By Rebecca Lisle (Published May 18th)
ISBN: 0-340-89447-4
A Gemma Roxy Williams review

Ruben had been walking for so long now that every tree or stone he passed on the lonely lane swayed in front of his eyes. And the terrible image in his mind-the body dangling on a rope- that was swaying too, back and forth, back and forth, like a giant, ragged pendulum."

Young Ruben lived happily with his beloved grandmother, Sarah Mearbeck, in the cosy town of Birtwell Priory. He lived happily that was, until the town’s suspicions and superstitions led them to hang his cherished gran, forcing him out of the only town he had ever known. Clutching the meager possessions he owned, he stumbled his way along ‘muddy lanes, pitted with holes and peppered with stones’ in search of a distant town and a distant hope of his only remaining relative.

Just as Reuben’s solitary journey gets off to a stumbling start, a horse and cart come ‘clip-clopping along behind him’ bringing devious ‘Doctor’ Flyte and simpleton Baggs crashing into his life. Innocent Reuben, haunted by the legacy of the toad birth mark on his neck, gets rolled up in the traveling business with the two tricksters.

After a series of failed attempts to escape this life of bullying and trickery, mischievous Flyte discloses the unhappy news than Reuben is his son. Our hero seems doomed to be stuck with these men who care for no-one, robbing the last of poor people’s money for a medical cure that does no more than a glass of water would. But then Flyte demands Reuben curses old enemy ‘Doctor Brittlebank’, and eats a dreaded toad… and the whirlwind enters the town of ‘Stonebridge’. Could this be the end for Reuben? Or will Flyte’s charlatan lifestyle finally be put to a stop? Why does the town of Stonebridge mean something to Reuben? And where has Shadow gone?

A Suspicion of Toads/ The Curse of the Toads takes you on a crazy rollercoaster ride through woods and villages, from an incident with a hook and some dreaded toads to the doom of ‘Cal’s Cauldron’; all the while speckled with appearances from the mysteriously endearing and suspiciously familiar ‘Shadow’.

An interesting take on the killing of innocents because of the suspicions and fears of civilization; we are shown a world where white is made black, good made evil; and at times we even empathise with the prosecutors.

Ideal for the secondary age bracket, but suitable for younger children, and grown ups too. Be prepared to squirm with squeamishness, hold your breath in suspense, and giggle along with the dialogue. You will have tears pricking your eyes. You will want to shout at some of the townsfolk and hit devious ‘quack and fraud’ Flyte. And you will want a ‘Shadow’ all of your own!
Just watch out for those toads!
© Gemma Roxy Williams April 2006

Gemma Is a Creative Writing major at the University of Portsmouth

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