Who needs friends when you've got MONSTERS?
Everything was happening so fast and it was all so . . . mad. It was as if someone had taken reality, made it into a jigsaw, thrown the jigsaw on to the floor and then said, "Now, hurry up and put it all together!" as they danced all over the jigsaw pieces in a clown suit, blowing a trumpet.
When Nelson's beloved big sister goes missing on a school trip, Nelson is devastated - he's not that good at making friends and his sister is the only person he can talk to. His parents join the search party and leave Nelson in the care of his mad uncle Pogo. Uncle Pogo is the caretaker of St Paul's Cathedral and it is here that Nelson stumbles across a machine, invented by Christopher Wren and buried for hundreds of years. Designed to extract the 7 deadly sins, the machine had a fault - once extracted, the sins became living, breathing monsters who would then follow the sinner around for eternity (unless they ate him first, in the case of the particularly sinful). Nelson accidentally extracts 7 deadly monsters from his own little soul. Ugly, cantankerous, smelly and often the cause of much embarrassment, Nelson's monsters are the last thing he needed in his life, but at least they're fairly harmless (he's a pretty good kid, on the whole). When he learns of their individual powers he realises the monsters can be put to good use, and together Nelson and the Deadly 7 set out on a quest across the globe to find and rescue his big sister. Somewhere along the way, Nelson realises that he finally has friends, even if they are smelly, lazy friends who like smashing stuff up.
The Deadly 7 is a monster adventure by successful director Garth Jennings and is packed full of hilariously appealing illustrations.
Garth Jennings is not the first to use the seven deadly sins as the basis for a story. From memory I can think of David Fincher's brilliant Se7en, manga series Fullmetal Alchemist, an episode of the TV series Supernatural, and the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. All of these use the sins as a vehicle for serious drama, albeit sometimes set in a fantasy world, however a good writer could just as easily use them within a comedy context. Think about it: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride could be comedy gold in the right hands, and Garth Jennings has those hands and his The Deadly 7 is one of the cleverest and funniest middle grade books you will read this year.
I have vague recollections of watching the disappointing 1970s comedy film The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins when I was in my teens. The cast list of this movie reads like a Who's Who of British comedy actors of the late 1960s/early 70s, and the list of writers is equally stellar. However, somehow it just is not as funny as it should have been, and sadly until now it is this treatment of the seven deadly sins that has remained in my memory (although many may argue that this is a far more healthy a memory for me than Fincher's Se7en). However, the memory has now been usurped by this wonderful comedy adventure story from Garth Jennings.
The blurb taken from Amazon at the beginning of this post tells you as much as I am going to about the plot of The Deadly 7, and in some ways I think that blurb tells you a little too much, but I don't think it's really my place to edit it down. However, what that blurb doesn't tell you is just how crazy this book is. In the monsterfication (made up word) of the sins he has created a team of bonkers and seriously fun comic characters (see images at the end of this post) who deserve to be spoken about with the same high praise as Woody and Buzz Lightyear, Sulley and Mike, and the Minions. Even though I love films, it's not often I feel the need to see a book adapted for the big screen (mainly because I have been disappointed too many times in the past), but if The Deadly 7 were in the hands of the best that Pixar has to offer then I would be queuing up to watch it.
The story itself is far more than a comedy story - it is a fast-paced adventure story that will have young readers hooked from the very first chapter. It is also a book that deals with loss (Nelson's big sister going missing, feared dead), but in a way that is occasionally poignant, often lighthearted, but never overbearing or upsetting for young readers. The story is also complemented by many of the author's own illustrations, some of which help bring his quirky monster creations to life for readers.
Less than three months in and 2015 is already shaping up to be another golden year for middle grade readers. I would not be surprised if The Deadly 7 makes an appearance in my top books of 2015, even though there are many months to go. It will take some pretty damn special books to knock it out of my top five. My thanks go to the fab people at Macmillan for sending me a copy to read.