________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004


The Mob. (Feather and Bone).

Clem Martini.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2004.
239 pp, cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 1-55337-574-2.

Subject Heading:
Crows-Juvenile literature.
Community - Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Michelle Warry.

**½ /4


On the other side of the tunnel, by the faint half-light that filtered through the crack, he could make out the dim outline of an immense cavern that dropped away and stretched on for what seemed like forever. Great spiraling columns of stone surged out of the gloom. Glossy beaks of rock stabbed down. Crystals shimmered and flickered in the walls and from the roof, and everywhere steam and shadow rose and swirled. It was the most terrifying, soul-inspiring, wonderful thing Kyp had ever encountered. He struggled between wanting to escape as quickly as possible and needing to explore farther.

Clem Martini has made an ambitious attempt to follow Kenneth Oppel's incredible success in reviving Canada's oldest genre of children's literature: the animal biography. Popular for well over a hundred years, with Margaret Marshall Saunders's Beautiful Joe topping the bestseller list for many years, “The Silverwing Saga” touched child readers in the same way and experienced the same literary and commercial success. Only time will tell whether The Mob, the first installment of “Feather and Bone: The Crow Chronicles,” will follow suit.

     Suitable for readers aged 10 to 14, The Mob is a sprawling work, encompassing the whole world of the Family of crows: their customs, beliefs about humans, routines, migration habits, maturation, and even creation myths. Martini, who has a wonderful command of language, crafts an elegant tale. The characters he creates in Kyp, Kym and Kuper are unique and exciting: Kyp for his gutsy daring, Kym for her inquisitiveness and intelligence, and Kuper for his odd-man-out quality. Their role in shaping the crow Family's fate through a blizzard and several cat attacks makes for a compelling story.

     However, this novel is not without its difficulties. Martini has competently employed a back-and-forth structure of flashbacks and foreshadowing which, while artistically commendable, may lose child readers in its meanderings. The late introduction of conflict (Chapter Seven) and a lack of any true overriding conflict arcing over the whole novel make the story seem disjointed and sometimes directionless. Another artistically admirable choice is Martini's use of narrator. The group elder Kalum (in the crow Family he is the Chooser) reveals both crow lore and Kyp, Kym and Kuper's tale within the narrative frame of a storytelling session for the Family at an annual Gathering. Although this device might work brilliantly on screen, in print it is problematic. First, it may be difficult for a child reader to relate to this elder, with his extremely adult worries about his responsibility for the group and his complaints about aching old bones. More detrimental is the effect Kalum's presence has of building an extreme distance between reader and characters. Although the reader is intended to feel like one of the flock listening to the story, the actual effect is that s/he can rarely get close enough to any characters to care about them. For example, not until the focus of the story shifts to Kyp, Kym, and Kuper on page 111 did I feel truly engaged and interested in the lives of the crows. The result is that the three main characters' story, which is surely the heart of the tale, feels stuck in the middle of Kalum's explanations of the crow world-- which, instead of a story, sometimes seem to be the true raison d'etre of The Mob.

     There can be no doubt that Martini's intended audience will respond with delight to Kyp, Kym, Kuper and their story. The question is whether they will be willing to sift through Kalum's sometime's long-winded ramblings to experience it. That said, if readers of The Mob persevere they will be the richer. As well as imagining and fleshing out the crow world every bit as well as Oppel did the bat world, Martini also explores meaningful themes of individuality, resourcefulness, and necessary rejection of authority and rules versus collectivity, obedience, and following tradition.

Recommended with Reservations.

Michelle Warry is a graduate student in UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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