Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is imaginatively illustrated and fun for young readers, but has no bite [Review]

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is imaginatively illustrated and fun for young readers, but has no bite [Review]

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball
By Laura Ellen Anderson
Published by Egmont
ISBN 978 1 4052 8672 5

If you prefer Halloween over all other annual celebrations, and you wish October’s spookfest could last all year long, then this might be the book for you. Laura Ellen Anderson stuffs as many creepy Halloween trappings into her debut novel as is ghoulishly possible, but the result is a mixed bag. 

The pudding is at times over-egged but undercooked in graphic artist Anderson’s first illustrated novel for fans of everything October 31. The problem is the weak plot, not the illustrations, which are up to Anderson’s usual high standard. 

The American commercialisation of Halloween has turned a serious festival into a money-making event and changed vampires, ghouls and ghosts into cute characters far from their original nature. When you think about it, a vampire that doesn’t suck blood is ridiculous, but it’s a character description that is familiar to young children; the dumbing-down of the legend has happened for years in TV series such as Young Dracula and Count Duckula. Bram Stoker, the brilliant novelist who wrote Dracula (1897) must be spinning in his grave at what others have done to his creation. 

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There is a reason top YA writers like Cornelia Funke use Anderson to illustrate their work: she is a top artist with a beautiful imagination. The artwork in Amelia Fang is highly entertaining, as fans of her work would expect. But the story around them is unoriginal and will leave many young readers in a state of frustration. 

Amelia Fang is a pre-teen goth girl with fangs. But quite what use these fangs are, Anderson does not explain. 

Amelia’s tale is set in the land of Nocturnia, where darkness rules and skeletons rattle happily in every closet. Glitter, kittens and unicorns, on the other hand, are the stuff of nightmares for the country’s residents. You get the picture. It’s been done before. 

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Amelia lives in a cobwebby castle with her mother, Countess Frivoleeta, and father, Count Drake. Amelia loves hanging out with her friends Florence the Yeti and Grimaldi, the apprentice grim reaper. She has a pet pumpkin called Squashy and spends a great deal of time playing in the Rickety Residence and the Central Nocturnia Graveyard. 

Things turn sour when Squashy is stolen by the king’s son. Now Amelia and her buddies have to spring into action to rescue Squashy. 

And that’s the entire plot. Many young readers will be entertained by the illustrations and the gentle Gothic goings-on. But Amelia is a vampire who does not bite. And that’s the problem! 

John Millen can be contacted on

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Fang’s story is imaginatively illustrated but the plot has no bite


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