Tag Archives: Timothée de Fombelle

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

Vango – A Prince Without a Kingdom

The title of Timothée de Fombelle’s Vango, Book 2 – A Prince Without a Kingdom, more than hints at who the lovely Vango might be. Born in 1915 and chased by Russians, you can guess. A prince he may well be, but what matters is what kind of man he has become. The answer to that is a very honourable one; someone who doesn’t choose the easy way, or what is best for himself.

Like Book 1, this is a wonderful, warm story. All Vango wants is to know who he is. He wants to be with the people he really loves and who matter to him, and more than anything he wants those people to be safe. Of necessity this means it’s a long book, set over six or seven years, with flashbacks to much earlier and with an ending a bit later still. It’s primarily set in the pre-WWII years and the first half of the war.

Timothée de Fombelle, Vango, Book 2 - A Prince Without a Kingdom

You have to love books like these. They are so rare, and so beautiful, as well as truly exciting. Nothing boring about it at all. It’s fascinating to see how the various plot strands are woven into the finished tale, and how it all works. I have to admit to having enjoyed myself so much that I forgot to look out for some little hints, which I ought to have noticed.

Vango goes to America, searching for the man who killed his parents. His old friend Padre Zefiro is also in America, wanting to kill another – bad – man. Their paths meet evey now and then, and Zefiro’s ‘gang’ do their bit, and Vango’s friends do theirs. Occasionally these paths also converge. And then there is Stalin, and there are the Germans, and the war.

I said about Book 1 that it was a little like I Am David. It still is, and for Book 2 I’d like to add that it’s also like Lisa Tetzner’s Die Kinder aus Nr. 67, especially the post-war  development.

Plenty of humour in the midst of the drama and agony. And I suppose Timothée is young and male and won’t know that blow dries were fairly unlikely in 1937. But he makes good use of other real life events from those days, to the extent that you sit there thinking that maybe this is what really happened?

Do read!

(Translation by Sarah Ardizzone)


It really shouldn’t matter one bit what an author is like. I might have said this before. But whereas it’s pretty common for authors to be both nice and good-looking without it ruining their writing or their books, it is not strictly speaking essential.

I’ve come to hate it when publishers point out how easy this author will be to sell. It’s their books that have to sell. Not the author as such.

Vango, which I reviewed yesterday, was written by someone I’d never heard of and whose looks I only accidentally found out about while checking something on Wikipedia. Even had Timothée looked like an ogre, I’d have loved his book. Perhaps he does look like an ogre and hired a stuntman for the photography session. I don’t know.

I have here on the Grandmother’s kitchen table a book I was sent recently. It actually looks quite decent, and despite first thinking it sounded ridiculous, I half came round and thought I could read it. Maybe. If there’s time.

But then came the words on the back of the proof; ‘written by highly-promotable young author … pitched for radio coverage … debut author slots.’ That was the death knell as far as I’m concerned. I will, as a matter of principle, not read it now. My time and attention will move on to something written by someone old and ugly.

Will I regret it? Might this be the next big thing? Probably not, because those tend to take us by surprise. It will possibly do well. I hope so, even if s/he is young and highly-promotable (I’d not come across this word before, hyphenated and everything, so I can’t stop typing it).

The fact that the book arrived accompanied by the kind of contract I loathe didn’t help.

Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by handsome people. Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by the kind of person who would most likely not be described as highly-promotable. Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by individuals I have no idea what they look like or anything else.

It doesn’t matter as long as the book is good.

In fairness, I suspect the description of the author is mainly aimed at bookshops, who just might want to know that the media will love this author, so will provide lots of free publicity, and that if the author were to visit their bookshop, s/he will not disgrace them by smelling or burping or being hard on the eye.

But I’d like to think that if I ever wrote a book, its acceptance and subsequent promotion wouldn’t be hindered by my rather un-lovely appearance or an age that not much can be done about. Nor even any reluctance to appear in public at all.


Timothée de Fombelle’s Vango, Book 1 – Between Sky and Earth is the kind of book that makes your hair stand on end. It’s the sheer unexpectedness of finding something new and marvellous, as well as ‘simply’ getting a reading experience which is pretty special. I’d never heard of Timothée or Vango until the second book arrived, but it looked so good I requested the first book so I could enjoy both.

Timothée de Fombelle, Vango, Book 1 - Between Sky and Earth

Set primarily in the 1930s, Vango could be David’s – from I Am David – older brother. A displaced boy with a mystery, one who speaks several languages, is hard working, popular and good at many things. Born in 1915, Vango is 19 when we meet him, and then the action moves back and forth from when he was three until early 1936. Set mainly in Europe, we move from Paris to Italy to Germany and Scotland during the exciting fictional 1930s that we love so much.

Vango can climb. Anything. There are Zeppelins, repercussions from the war as well as a slow romance going on. It’s very exciting. Very lovely. Perhaps because people are not talking about this book as much as they should, because it’s French. A translation, by the capable Sarah Ardizzone. It’s a typical example of how you lose out through xenophobia. Admittedly, Timothée’s idea of Scotland is based more on England, but who cares? It’s fun. It has a flavour of The Thirty-Nine Steps, with some Jules Verne thrown in.

Having decided to take a – very short – break before reading book 2, I can’t entirely say where Vango is going. But trust me, it’s worth reading. This is the kind of discovery you want to make, rather than more of the same, whether wizzards or vampires. You get Vango, and countless more colourful characters that you want to get to know better. That’s more than enough.