A review of Gladiss and The Alien by Warren Thurston

Suspense is built slowly and effectively, as the reader is caught up in Sally’s desperate search for her horse, and the complications of storm and the bad guys. The question of how Gladiss became a mooer instead of a neigher is one which will also keep children reading, and for reluctant readers, that is certainly key.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Gladiss and The Alien
By Warren Thurston
Mountain Mist Productions
$8.95aud ebook, 2006
www.1stmist.com/WarrenThurston.htm

One Saturday morning, Sally took her horse Gladiss for a ride. It was an ordinary day, but suddenly something upset Gladiss and she threw Sally. When Sally came to, Gladiss had developed a strange quirk – she was mooing instead of neighing. Finding out just why Gladiss moos, and trying to keep her safe from the ruthless thieves who think a mooing horse is too valuable to resist, is the plotline which drives Warren Thurston’s latest young adult novel Gladiss and The Alien.

Throughout the story, Thurston demonstrates an excellent command of time and place, making vivid the unique setting of Australian’s Simpson’s Desert come alive. The book is full of vivid local scenery and historic touches such as Murphy’s Waterhole and the Piedmont Stockyards, and Irish gold prospector Mick O’Shea’s rough shack:

The sight that met Sally’s eyes made her heart sink with
disappointment. Instead of seeing a neat brick house, she saw a shack
made entirely from packing cases. The shack had a veranda that went
right around the outside. Next to the shack was a small stable, also made
of packing cases, which consisted of three walls and a roof. At the front of
the shack, tethered to one of the veranda posts, was an old border collie
who barked at them furiously. (21)

The desert in which the story is set is unusual, and Thurston’s love for the place is obvious. Some of the writing touches are lovely, such as: “The storm continued to howl while the rain slowly turned the desert into a sea of mud.” (22) A number of the passages in the book take an animal’s point of view, such as Pakka’s passage here:

Flying across the desert from Pirates Cove to Piedmont, in the heat
of the day, was hard thirsty work. It did not take long before Pakka’s throat
became very dry. He remembered a waterhole that existed in this part of
the desert. As a chick, he used to visit the waterhole with his mother and
the rest of the flock. One day the flock fell prey to hawks as they flew to
the waterhole. A hawk clipped Pakka, breaking his left wing, but his
mother did not escape and died in the hawk’s lethal talons.(57)

Suspense is built slowly and effectively, as the reader is caught up in Sally’s desperate search for her horse, and the complications of storm and the bad guys. The question of how Gladiss became a mooer instead of a neigher is one which will also keep children reading, and for reluctant readers, that is certainly key. The story is full of interesting details and plot points, such as the smuggler’s secret cave, the mad dash as a flour covered Gladiss tries to get help, and of course, the aliens who remain a mystery throughout a large proportion of the story. The reader of course is alerted by the title, and the ending is a perfect denouement which provides full satisfaction. The bad guys, like Mr Tracey and his bumbling henchmen are well drawn and children will enjoy how they get their comeuppance.

There are a few inconsistencies or character flaws, such as the apparent ease in which police constable Trumble takes the news that Sally is missing. After all, a missing horse (even a mooing horse) is one thing, but a missing child is another. Few policemen would be cavalier about that, especially under the circumstances. Also that Sally would go, unwarily, to Mick’s shack for hot tea and biscuits. I know Mick is a good character, but Sally wouldn’t have, and all schools do stranger danger classes. She would have hesitated, and even if not, I would want my child to.

However, Gladiss and the Alien is a good story which will certainly appeal to young adult readers. The simple vocabulary and fast paced, animal oriented story keeps interest up. The story is underpinned by the author’s (and characters) great love of animals, from Sally’s horse Gladiss and bird Paaka, to Mick O’Shea’s dog affectionate old dog Francis, and younger children in particular will certainly enjoy an equine hero. Her great deeds aren’t all that far fetched. This is a story that could be easily read by emerging readers or read in short chapters to children who aren’t quite reading yet. The vocabulary is suitable from about age 6 or so to about age 13. Horse mad girls in particular would love it.

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