Clabbernappers by Len Bailey (book review).

‘Clabbernappers’ by Len Bailey is a children’s book in the fantasy genre. The hero is eleven year-old Danny Ray, a rodeo cowboy in the Junior Division who wins a prize popping balloons at the Cherokee County Fair, walks through a door marked ‘Adventure’ and is transported to another world called Elidor.

Two foot tall armoured soldiers, the mumpokers, escort him to the court of King Krystal where he learns that the Queen has been kidnapped. King Krystal dreamed last night that a champion would come from the Otherworld to save her. So Danny Ray is dispatched to do the job along with Lord Red, Lord Green and the unruly, disobedient Prince, a spoiled brat best left behind.

In Elidor, giant chess pieces ‘sail’ on the checkered sea, a polished plain of marble. They are mobile stone buildings with engines powered by an assortment of creatures. Tantarraobbs eat coal but can only make vessels go slowly.

Zanzoomies eat hobbleberries and give greater swiftness but fastest of all are the Clabbernappers. It’s an imaginative secondary world, well realised with some nice details. The author acknowledges his debt to C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian and the battles between chess pieces resemble historic sea warfare, cannon broadsides, grappling hooks, boarding parties and so on, though Danny’s deeds owe more to Errol Flynn than anyone else.

Danny is a likeable hero and there’s a great cast of characters from Captain Quigglewigg who commands the Hog, a garbage collecting Rook to the exotic, beautiful and very rich Sultana Sumferi Sar, Queen of Port Palnacky.

The Sarksa are insectoid pirates ten feet tall with multi-faceted eyes and a whiplike tail. The first quarter of the book is a bit too cute and you can almost picture the Disney animated feature. The mumpokers sing a little song, the tantarrabobs sing a little song and the crew of the Hog have a ditty for hauling up the anchor. However, as the story develops and the threats increase, this tone is dropped.

The change is probably deliberate. Len Bailey writes well and there are elegant descriptions of weird creatures and spooky scenery. The plot barrels along at a fast pace introducing new lands, new wonders and new problems to Danny.

Don’t expect any shades of grey or complex characters, the general feel is of a Disney/Pixar movie but they are fun and so is this. It’s also very inventive. I enjoyed it and might check out the sequel, ‘Fantasms’ which is set in the same world.

Eamonn Murphy

July 2022

(pub: TOR, 2005. 224 page small hardback. Price: $17.95 (US), $24.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30981-5)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His works are available on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited.

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