cover image The Cockatrice Boys

The Cockatrice Boys

Joan Aiken, Author Tor Books $20.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-86056-1

Respected for her suspense (The Embroidered Sunset) and children's fantasy (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase), Aiken turns here to adult fantasy, only partially hitting her mark. Monsters called ""cockatrices"" invade Britain and drive the bulk of the population underground. The country's hopes are pinned on the Cockatrice Corps, who travel from London to Manchester via armor-plated train to battle the foul creatures. Two children travel with the Corps: drummer Dakin Prestwick and his orphaned cousin Sauna Flow, both of whom escape from their nasty Aunt Monsoon. Sauna's precognitive abilities give the Corps a much needed advantage--but they also make the girl a target for the evil behind the cockatrices. A missing book of occult lore written by one of Sauna's ancestors may hold the key to dispelling the monsters. When Sauna is kidnapped, the Cockatrice Corps must save her and recover the book before the enemy does. While the writing is punchy, the story lacks the depth and polish of Aiken's previous work. She adopts a hybrid tone that mixes whimsy with menace, resulting in a murky morality tale that is awkwardly poised between adult and childlike sensibilities. (Sept.)