The Mousehunter - Alex Milway
This delightful and well-presented little book was written and illustrated by an ex-colleague of Ben's, and combines a couple of elements that you can hardly go wrong with - mice and pirates! The world of the Mousehunter is one where the nautical mouse-trade reigns supreme; mousehunters compete to discover new species, and hordes of collectors pay premium prices for rare or unusual mice, to the extent that it seems to drive the entire economy. The mice themselves can only squeak, but still have various social roles to play, from the huge dung-mice who produce a valuable fuel, to the boffin mice that make great lab assistants. As you may gather, this is a book for children, where it's possibly to be rather more cavalier with the rules of biology and economics, but it still has a cracking story.
Emiline is the young mousekeeper for the famous mouse collector, Isaiah Lovelock. She has always dreamed of going to sea and becoming a proper mousehunter, so leaps at the opportunity to join the privateer Drewshank, who is dispatched to hunt down the notorious pirate Mousebeard. But, after a journey beset by sea monsters and mysterious fog, they finally meet Mousebeard and find out that all is not what it seems. After battles and betrayals, only Emiline is left to save the world's mice from a terrible fate... The battles are bloodthirsty enough to satisfy even the most hardcore Roald Dahl fan, and the bodycount is surprisingly high for a kids' book, but there's also plenty of sweet description of the mice.
Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the "Mousehunter's Almanac", with a picture and description of one of the many species of mouse, for example the Sharpclaw Mouse or the dreaded Nosferatu Mouse. It was quite a shame that there weren't more illustrations; these were generally restricted to the front and end pages, as well as the chapter heads. In contrast to the great pictures, the writing isn't brilliant, and sentences clunk quite a bit, but the story sparkles and is full of action. It's slightly below the age limit that would appeal to most adults, but for kids who are at the stage of Lemony Snicket or The Hobbit, this is almost guaranteed to please.