Margo Lanagan

The Lost Shimmaron, book 2

ABC Books (2007)

ISBN: 978073332079

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in January 2008)

The Singing Stones is volume two in a seven volume series of children’s novels. Each novel is written by a different, well-known, Australian author, and each novel tells a different story of a Shimmaron’s search for rescue. The Shimmaron are energy beings who crash landed on Earth a long time ago. The force of the crash scattered them through time and across different worlds. Disguised in different forms, they call to the children of Amethyst to help them reunite in Lake Shimmer. Only when enough of the Shimmaron have gathered there will they be able to rebuild their ship and escape Earth.

In The Singing Stones, Lawrence and Jean are swept away by a willy-willy while fossicking for rocks with their grandfather, and find themselves in the land of Scintillon. The land runs on the power of magical jewels, and parts of it are being devastated by the thefts of jewels by the ruthless Rose twins. Lawrence and Jean slowly come to realise that in order to do what they have been called to Scintillon to do – rescue a Shimmaron who is disguised as a power jewel – they must also defeat the Roses and save Scintillon itself.

This is a children’s novel, and Lanagan has used a simple and direct writing style. She doesn’t talk down to her audience, but she does ensure that most would have little difficulty reading the novel themselves. It would also read well if an adult were reading this aloud with a child.

This novel gave the impression of having less action than other books in the series, although the characters spent a lot of time on the move. It was probably a little more realistic for that, though; Jean and Lawrence take some time to work out what has happened to them and what is expected of them. Their relationship is a realistic one for siblings; sometimes mildly antagonistic, but when the chips are down they can rely on each other. It does seem a trend in the Shimmaron books that the younger sibling will be the one who first believes in what has happened to them, and takes the lead in saving the Shimmaron (it’s happened in the first three books in the series). This will probably go down well enough with children with older siblings, and the older siblings will probably focus on the older child’s part in the adventure. Meanwhile, Jean is a thoughtful girl who thinks about the implications of what she sees and does; Lawrence is more headstrong and will think of little except his stomach when he’s hungry.

This Shimmaron is distinctly self-absorbed and cares for nothing except its own rescue. In other novels the Shimmaron has been either benign or neutral; this one is positively selfish. Lanagan doesn’t explore this explicitly, but she does have Jean and Lawrence looking beyond this to the bigger picture for Scintillon overall. Jean in particular spends some time thinking about the morality of various things they do; Lanagan isn’t preaching, but she’s encouraging children to think about some of those issues. Jean doesn’t just react to the Shimmaron’s pleas; she thinks about what it would do to other people if she follows instructions blindly.

The land of Scintillon is well thought out; the world is probably a little sketchy for adults used to reading massive fantasy epics that go into great detail, but it’s realistic and consistent and will satisfy most young readers. It’s also quite distinctly different to Earth, giving credibility to the speed with which the children work out that they are in a different world. Lanagan seems to have focused on developing strong characters and making them sympathetic to the reader, more than on her setting; but both work.

I wasn’t clear why the part of the novel set on Earth was set in the past, around the time of World War II. It didn’t seem to have any bearing on the plot, or on the behaviour of the characters. It was so subtle that many children would miss it, the only real clue being a reference to a newspaper with a headline about Belgium mobilising and a photo of Attlee. It was just a curious part of the novel that didn’t seem to either help or hinder the story.

That was the only complaint I had about this novel. Overall, this is an effective children’s novel that fits well into the Shimmaron series. It should be enjoyed by its target audience, and most adults will also enjoy the novel if sharing it with a child.