Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield
Hazard River series—books 5-6 Toads’ Revenge & Blood Money
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Format: PB Kids 8+
Price: AUD $12.95
ISBN: 978 1 921665 45 5, 978 1 921665 46 2
After four adventures it’s still holiday time at Hazard River. Never short on ideas for something to do, ten-year old Jack, little brother Ben, and mates Lachlan—Master of Disaster—Master and Mimi Fairweather set off to meet new neighbour and world-famous adventurer, Just Orsum. Once inside the intrepid adventurer’s fence, the kids are alerted to an imminent attack by a pack of feral geese (or possibly peacocks) and take refuge in what they believe is a cottage. Little do they realise the structure is, in fact, Orsum’s latest project: a time machine.
“‘If this is a spaceship, it should have windows,’ Mimi says. ‘There’s no point going into space if you can’t see the view.’
‘That makes sense,’ I say.
‘Stop saying, “that makes sense”,’ Lachlan shouts. ‘Nothing is going to make sense until we find Just Orsum.’
Lachlan takes a few steps and then stops in his tracks. ‘What on earth is going on?’
We’re all looking at the house now. It looks ruined, like it’s about to fall down. Maybe it was hit by a cyclone while we were on holidays in outer space?”
Transported to the year 2021, the kids are shocked to find an alien world awaits, Packs of giant mutant cane toads roam the land, spraying poison and eating anything they can catch—including people. What has caused such a warty atrocity? The kids soon find out when they meet Just Orsum’s grown son, Joshua: Back in 2011 a ship carrying a cargo of toxic chemicals ran aground off the coast. The resulting leak caused death and destruction to the native fauna and flora—and gross mutations to the cane toad population. If they are to have a future worth living, the kids must survive the marauding toads, get back to the past and prevent the spill.
“I have always wanted to be rich. Richer than the Queen? No, not that rich—just to have loads of money, that’s all I ask.”
When Jack’s brother, Ben, finds a bag full of money hidden in the mangroves, Jack thinks all his dreams have come true. But before he has finished working out ways to spend the dosh, Lachlan and Mimi find out and things get complicated. Deciding the money must belong to criminals, the kids figure out a plan to find out for certain. And if they’re right, they reason, it surely won’t be wrong to keep the money for themselves. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple.
Through a group of engaging characters, Fison uses the Hazard River series to tackle issue of environment and animal welfare. Previous titles: Shark Frenzy, Snake Surprise and Tiger Terror all relate to the capture, illegal sale and mistreatment of animals. Like, Toads’ Revenge, Bat Attack deals with environmental matters by exploring the destruction of a natural habitat for profit. Fison’s writing is fresh, tight and easily absorbed. Action and humour abound, and are the reasons this series works so well. While the message in these books is clear, it isn’t in any way preachy—nor is the humour forced. The child characters are all well-developed, each with a distinct personality, which is something all too often glazed over in such short fiction.
No stranger to adventure herself, Fison draws on her own experiences trekking through Africa and the jungles of Borneo in writing this series. With extensive experience as a news reporter in Australia, the UK and Asia, she has eaten fried grasshoppers, shaken hands with an orang-utan and been caught in the middle of an elephant battle. Her fiction has been short and long-listed for various awards.
In just a few short years, fledgling publisher, Ford Street, has managed to release an impressive collection of fiction and non-fiction for young people. Covering genres from SF and fantasy through to contemporary realism, and with themes ranging from gender reassignment to the environment, this publisher really does have something for every reading taste. To view the full catalogue, find stockists, order books and read the latest newsletter, visit: www.fordstreetpublishing.com
Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for children and YAs In addition, several of her short stories and articles have appeared both in print and online. She has regularly reviewed children’s books for e-zine Buzz Words since 2006 and is currently working on her first adult novel.