Twelve-year-olds George and Edie become aware of a war in London between the Spits, statues of humans, and the Taints, statues of everything else, including gargoyles, dragons and minotaurs. They are, of course, on the side of the Spits. They are shepherded by the sturdy Gunner, helped along by Dr Johnson and the rather sneaky Black Friar, and confused by the Sphinxes who are of mixed allegiance.
It is from the Gunner that we learn of statues and their makers. The statues are the children of their makers, taking their names in the same way that a human does. The Gunner gives a moving description of how Jagger, a sculptor-turned-soldier, made statues around London after the Great War which represented the way in which wives and children wanted to remember their loved ones fallen in battle. The issue of a creator God is skirted throughout but some discussion may be appropriate if this is an issue.
The main thread of the story plays itself out without any great difficulties; the children have to use their initiative to overcome obstacles, learn to trust each other and to discover where their quest is taking them. Neither child has a complete family: both fathers are dead, Edie's living in hostels for runaways, and George's mother is an actress and often away. Neither child has any kind of belief that anyone can help them, until they experience the rough but undemanding friendship and help of the Gunner, the Dictionary and the other Spits. Their relationship with each other is frosty at first but thaws into a gentle friendship.
The character I'm left most uneasy about is the Black Friar, outside the pub of that name. The other statues mistrust him, but there's no apparent reason why this should be. Certainly he presents himself as a fairly free-living monk, more pub landlord than Religious, with only mockery for religious practice. His reputation for shiftiness seems to have no plot relevance.
The dénouement is disappointing for turning from the down-to-earth if fantastical struggle between Spits and Taints to a hard-to-understand and semi-mystical struggle involving difficult choices for both children. Nonetheless, I find the book's starting point, main characters and chosen battleground so appealing as to overcome that small difficulty.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.
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