Book Review, Children's Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Hydra by Robert Swindells

– Short Review –

Mysterious crop circles appear in the fields outside a small English village. They draw people from miles around to take a look. Theories fly around as to what might be causing them. For most people its nothing more than a fun mystery but not for Ben and Midge. They follow the clues when no one else is bothered. Deeper and deeper they go into a mystery with a mad scientist, a cruel and greedy farmer, and something altogether worse.

Other books like this one: Room 13 and Blitz by Robert Swindells

Four out of five Storgy typewriters.

– Longer Review –

Robert Swindells is the master of horror for kids. He’s often prompted to write his books by an issue or event in the real world. Brother in the Land was in response to the threat of nuclear war in the 1980s. Stone Cold talks about homeless young people. Room 13 was inspired by an actual school trip. And following in that trend, Hydra followed on from the phenomenon of crop circles that really was a mystery for many many years, with people believing they were caused by everything from freak weather conditions to aliens. In truth they were made by a small group of men who owned up to the prank after years of fooling people.

Robert Swindells wrote Hydra before the mystery was solved and he takes us on a wonderfully creepy monster detective story.  Ben has a bit of a crush on Midge, who is independent and daring. Her parents run a restaurant, working long hours, so Midge has a lot of time to herself, including at night, she walks around the village when no one is about. This habit proves useful to Ben and Midge’s sleuthing. Midge persuades Ben to come on midnight investigations. Although he is naturally a bit afraid, caught between wanting to find out more and not wanting anything bad to happen, he goes anyway, because, well, he’d probably do anything Midge asked him.

The two get closer and closer to the truth of what caused the crop circles, focusing on Cansfield farm, and the two strangers staying there. They do their research. They snoop around and the more they find out the more the real danger grows both to them and others. But no one will believe what they have found because it is so impossible. Hydra2

Although published back in 1991, Hydra hasn’t dated, apart from the kids dependence on telephone boxes – there were no mobile phones, ask your parents – and old fashioned cameras that had to be loaded with rolls of film. Again, not even the telephone boxes had cameras back then. But this doesn’t really matter to the story at all.  For me, an old man of 39, it reminded me of when I was Ben and Midge’s age, and of a crop cycle that appeared in a field not far from where I grew up in the English countryside.

Hydra is a wonderful introduction to horror, without scaring the pants right off you. The story has some brilliant, likeable and believable young characters, and one who is harder to like, at the start at least. The grown-ups won’t believe the kids and the ending is truly explosive. If you like your stories a bit creepy then you could do a lot worse than reading some of Robert Swindell’s books and Hydra in particular.

Hydra is available from Penguin here.


Roberth Swindells.jpg

Robert E. “Bob” Swindells (born 20 March 1939) is an author of children’s and young adult literature. Born in Bradford, the first of five children, Swindells worked for a local newspaper after leaving school aged 15. He served with the Royal Air Force and held various jobs before training as a teacher. His first novel, When Darkness Comes (1973), was written as his thesis while in training. Swindells combined writing with teaching until 1980 when he took up writing full-time. He first won the Children’s Book Award with Brother in the Land (1985), a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world. Swindells was a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and is quoted as saying that the work “… came out of my own anger and frustration … you can’t kill selectively with nuclear weapons, you wipe out millions of people …” Swindells also won the award for Room 13 (1990), Nightmare Stairs (Short novel, 1998) and Blitzed (Younger readers, 2003). His young adult novel Stone Cold (1993), which dealt with homelessness, won the Carnegie Medal in 1994. Swindells is married, lives in Yorkshire and has two daughters and three grandchildren.

Reviewed by Daniel Soule

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