This is the first of an adventure series for Middle Grade readers, set in a magical land based on the ancient continent of Gondwana. I was attracted to the idea of our heroine, Nellie, falling through a ‘crack in the Earth’ into Gondwana and not being able to get out until she had played ‘the game’ set by Gondvan, ruler of the Gondwana realms. I don’t think it qualifies as time travel, although time is certainly an element of the adventure.
The land is a wondeful mix of primaeval forest, rocks and streams, genuine plants and some animals as evidenced by fossil remains, and composite or mythical creatures such as troll-like people and spirits. There are also descendents of extinct animals such as pygmy possums and lyrebirds. It is brilliantly described, and colour plays a huge part in it.
Nellie meets a boy who has failed to get out of the forest n the past, and her positive mental attitude helps to turn his negative approach into friendly help. I like the way that Nellie comes from Australia, and Meg, the friend, from India, both of which continents are thought to be remnants of the original Gondwanaland. There are connections throughout this book that make it feel coherent and real, despite the unreality of the spirit world. Sliding down a rainbow sounds great fun!
The challenge Nellie is set to enable her to escape from Gondwana is enjoyable and not over-taxing for the reader, but the descriptions of her adventures are vivid. Most young readers would be able to imagine themselves in those situations and admire her ways of getting out of trouble. I wasn’t sure I appreciated the immediate decision to damage the giant grasshopper, though, when peaceful methods had been the first choice most other times (unless they had been attacked first). However, I think the New Zealand Weta is not what I think of as a grasshopper, so the decision might have been justified.
Nellie now has the status of Visitor to Gondwana, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens to her in the next book.
All in all, a very enjoyable book and one that I was keen to get back to when I had to take breaks! I think any kid (big or small) interested in adventures in the wild will enjoy this, especially if they have a passing interest in pre-historic worlds.