• Matt Johnston

When the arrival of aliens is the least of your problems

Updated: Nov 3, 2018

My review of 'Aliens in My Garden' by Jude Gwynaire

I’ll start with an acknowledgement, which is that unless I move into a retirement community in Eastbourne, I am at the stage in my life that I am not going to be referred to as a ‘young adult’. But I guess the key to youth is remaining open to new experiences, and I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to review the forthcoming publication, Aliens in My Garden by Jude Gwynaire.

I’ll start by getting my two main bugbears out of the way, primarily because these will be the first things that the prospective reader will be confronted with, namely the artwork and the title. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either, but to my mind both misdirect from the core concept enjoyable novel which follows. I have no real point of reference in the YA literary world, but as I read the book I found myself drawing comparisons with the cartoons I loved in my childhood: Willo the Wisp, Chorton and the Wheelies (not that any of the market audience will have heard of these), with touch of the surrealism of Captain Star. I often find myself directing the scenes in my head as I read, and in the case of Aliens in My Garden, the image was more cartoonish, while the cover I have seen does not capture this.

Thankfully this is a criticism which borders on the churlish (and may be mitigated with the blurb on the back cover when published), and within only few lines the reader is brought into fantastical universe of Gwynaire’s creation, dominated by playful dialogue and narrative wit which ensures that the story is never at risk of tasking itself too seriously.

The heart of the novel is the fusion of genres, namely fantasy folklore and science fiction. In this case with the relative ‘normalcy’ of the lives of wizards, witches, familiars, dragons, and goblins being disturbed by the arrival of extra-terrestrial interlopers. With such a broad canvas the Gwynaire does well not to clutter the story with unnecessary detail, keeping within the parameters of established character descriptions while pressing them into the same story arch. A witch is a witch, an alien is an alien, and a talking potato is just as I have written it. That is not to say there isn’t a lot going on and Gwynaire maintains a lively pace to proceedings. Yet for the host of characters well familiar with a universe full of fantastic possibilities the meeting is not so much an identity and cultural shattering collision, but the latest of frequent incredible encounters, managed with the clumsiness and awkwardness similar to the meeting of two busloads foreign exchange students.

Here the underlying thread of gentle comedy is critical, carrying the reader over the corruption of established the traditional genres, and negating the possible rejection of willing disbelief. Both science fiction and fantasy are deeply embedded in their own lexicon, and to ensure a successful melding together of these concepts I get the impression that Gwynaire has gone to great length to compare and contrast the views of the aliens and the magical host, in many instances demonstrating this is little more than variance in language and familiarity. As a result the aliens become less alien, and the magical less mystifying. This is not a criticism, but rather a core theme of the book, which is one of perspective. Therefore, while the reader will see all the entire ensemble as extraordinary, for the characters, where the weird and wonderful is commonplace, the experience seems more mundane. In a world of such anarchic anthropomorphism, magical Machiavellian incompetence and borderline slapstick disorder, the arrival of an intergalactic fleet barely raises an eyebrow.

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