The Explorer

There are plenty of guts in this adventure, from fish to bird to emotional. A plane crash in the Amazon leaves four children fighting to survive. Their leader is Fred, a wildly courageous budding explorer of the early twentieth century English public school variety. Helped by Lila, the daughter of a zoologist, challenged by disaffected Connie, and downright hindered by five-year-old Max, Fred tries in vain to guide them back to civilisation. As the children weaken and the jungle threatens to swallow them, a map and a tin of sardines lead them to a mysterious, moody rescuer.

Steaming with atmosphere and teeming with fantastic creatures, from the edible grubs in cocoa pods to the eye-licker bees that drink sweat and nest in pupils, The Explorer is part adventure, part survival guide. Rundell’s distinctive voice, which won her great acclaim with Rooftoppers and The Wolf Wilder, is strong as ever, though perhaps a little sentimental and moralising in parts. Fred could have jumped out of Boys’ Own with his impossible heroism, and Connie is a sharply drawn, endearing misfit. Lila’s fierce love for her brother Max convinces, although Max himself doesn’t always ring true for me, with a voice that sometimes sounds more thirty-five than five. The Explorer himself is a tortured, intriguing character whose gruesome threats mask a broken heart that is revealed effectively as the story unfolds. The pace lags a little until he appears halfway through, but it is worth the wait in this colourful, originally told tale.