Review: The Ghost Drum by Susan Price
In a nutshell: an exquisite fable-for-all-ages of almost poetic beauty.
“In a place far distant from where you are now grows an oak-tree by a lake.
Round the oak’s trunk is a chain of golden links.
Tethered to the chain is a learned cat, and this most learned of all cats walks round and round the tree continually.
As it walks one way, it sings songs.
As it walks the other, it tells stories.
This is one of the stories the cat tells.”
That’s the opening paragraph of ‘The Ghost Drum’ by Susan Price, and I can promise, it only gets better from there. Admit it, you’re hooked already aren’t you? You want to know what the cat’s going to tell you? Well, I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. This gorgeous little book had me completely entranced from the first moment I started reading it. I’ve held off reviewing it for a long time because I don’t feel I can really do it justice in a few words, but I’ll give it a go.
The story is set in a somewhere-far-away, somewhen-long-ago land of Eastern European blizzards and cunning sorcery. It’s billed as a children’s book, but please don’t be fooled by that description. Whilst I think that this book should be on every primary school reading list (despite some of the quite disturbing later events and imagery – chapter twelve will haunt me forever!) this is far more than just a kid’s story.
The writing is exquisite, almost poetic and balances lush description perfectly with simple language to create images that are utterly vivid and affecting. The story told is very reminiscent of traditional folk tales, with witches and Czars and magic huts on chicken legs, but it’s a story of old-fashioned quality with some very modern twists. The young royal imprisoned in the tower is a prince (well, a Czarevich) not a princess. The hero is a girl named Chingis who must work unbelievably hard to learn her birth-right from her adoptive witch-mother. The world Susan Price creates in this book is saturated with jewel colours, at once familiar from fairytale and yet fascinating and exotic at the same time. The cyclical nature of the narrative, always returning to the cat winding around its tree, is echoed in the overall theme of the book and particularly in the last chapter where, without wanting to give too much away, a very satisfying conclusion is reached.
Just suffice to say that somewhere around the start of chapter five there’s a bit of this story that made me cry in the middle of a packed London train, out of sheer joy. That’s how good this book is. I will read it over and over again.
You can now pick up The Ghost Drum and its sequels Ghost Song and Ghost Dance in Kindle edition as of 2011.