The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmtih is the debut middle-grade read from Loris Owen published by Firefly Press. It is a thrilling race-against-time fantasy read full of excitement, mystery and with danger lurking at every turn.
Twelve-year-old Kip Bramley lives on Eelstone Housing estate with his dad, Theo. He is still trying to deal with the loss of his sister and the hospitalisation of his mother after a freak lightning strike seven years ago. Kip attends school at Ledhill Community Academy but he doesn’t really fit in. He doesn’t belong with the sporty kids, he is not fond of the boastful clever kids and he is definitely not one of the cool kids. And his relationship with Miss. Gubbins or the ‘snibbug’, his form teacher and head of Science, is far from good.
Kip loves puzzles and whilst hanging out in his favourite Chess Nut Tree he receives an unusual fifty pence piece delivered by a beetle-shaped drone. The fifty pence piece is the first part of a puzzle which eventually sees Kip find his way to Quicksmiths. Quicksmiths is everything Ledhill Academy is not and for the first time in his life Kip finds himself fitting in with his surroundings.
Quicksmiths is a ‘school’ for people who think differently. Very differently in-fact. They don’t see the world the way most people do. Kip soon finds himself trying to solve riddles and unpick puzzles that were set by a genius four hundred years earlier. And the more riddles he solves the closer he seems to be to danger and the need to be the finder of the Ark of Secrets becomes ever more important.
It took me a while to really get into this read but once the riddle solving started I was engrossed. It is just over a third of the way in before Eartha Quicksmith’s first riddle is introduced. The pace picks up rapidly from here on in. It takes the children a while to solve the first three riddles but as soon as they get into full on problem solving mode and their brains are in-tune with the riddles the drama rapidly unfolds. The final third of the book sees seven riddles getting solved and a dramatic climax. I was extremely excited that I solved riddle number eight although I’m not sure that qualifies me for a place at Quicksmiths.
I love the world that Owen has created. The delicious place locations within Quicksmiths - The Buttery, Confucius Courtyard, Garden of Giant Leapfrogs, Celestial Hall, Clock Tower Courtyard, Aristotle’s Theatre. Each location is vividly brought to life and I could see myself walking around taking in the sights.
Venturing into the world of Quicksmiths for the first time brought that same buzz and excitement that I felt when I first visited Hogwarts. As I was reading I drew so many parallels with Harry Potter…children running around a unique school for children with special talents, boys and girls zooming around on flying objects, eclectic professors and teachers, and dark creatures lurking. And Owen has also given the reader some very loveable creatures, Kip’s dependable flying squirrel, Pinky, and Leela’s mowl. The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith does for the sci-fi world what Harry Potter did for the magical world and this is a wonderful thing. As Kip and his friends go about trying to solve the riddles, Owen has woven important messages on friendship, teamwork, resilience and problem solving into the narrative.
I’m sure this will not be my only adventure into the world of Quicksmiths and I look forward to venturing back there again soon. Owen has also given me my favourite word of 2020…”wurble-urble” is the brilliant noise the mowl makes when it is excited! I very much look forward to seeing the published copy which will include illustrations and a map.
Recommended for 9+.
With thanks to Netgalley and Firefly Press for the review copy.