Anne Droyd and Century Lodge by Will Hadcroft

Three children, Gezz, Luke and Malcolm, are playing on some waste ground close to where they live, when they bear witness to the arrival of an old man and a startling young girl. The man is Professor Wolfgang Droyd and the girl is Anne Droyd – not his daughter, but his android creation, capable of great feats of agility, speed and ingenuity. The two are on the run from the facility where Anne Droyd was developed: The Ministry. The children are initially frightened by the duo, but it soon becomes clear that the two escapees need their help. Soon, the professor is recaptured, and it falls to the three children to take care of Anne in his absense. Whilst Anne is in many ways superhuman, she is sub-human in terms of her emotions and experience. Gezz, Luke and Malcolm arrange for Anne to attend their school, to help her learn how to be human.

On the surface, the novel is a fairly straightforward children’s story, in a similar vein to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. But there’s also something going on underneath: a look at the human race from the quirky perspective of a non-human. For instance, if someone said to Anne, “Go back,” she might start walking backwards. Misunderstandings are part of the fun of the story, but this is also a theme close to the author’s heart. Will Hadcroft has felt a bit like an alien all his life, suffering a mild form of Asperger Syndrome. I’ve already read Will’s autobiography, The Feeling’s Unmutual (I thoroughly recommend it), and I recognised immediately that some scenes in Anne Droyd were straight out of his past experiences, for instance, his childhood fascination with smokers and a particularly bad bullying incident. The novel is currently marketed as an “Asperger Adventure,” designed to give affected readers a protagonist that they can really empathise with. Note: the novel’s first publication was not aimed at such a restricted target audience; I don’t want to convey the idea that it’s not aimed at all children, when it is.

I sense a three-act structure to the novel. First, the story charts Gezz, Luke and Malcolm’s experiences of getting to know Anne, followed by Anne’s impact on life at school, and finally a showdown with the bad guys from The Ministry. When reading, I couldn’t help thinking about those multi-part dramas that I used to see on Children’s BBC when I was a kid – often adaptations of novels. Anne Droyd and Century Lodge would make a pretty good one.

The novel is not without a few problems. I felt the pacing was rather slow; some of the more mundane and domestic scenes in the novel were over-developed and took up too much reading time. Sometimes, characters made incredulous decisions, like the police apprehending Professor Droyd at Gezz’s house, then failing to search the property for Anne just because the professor told them she wasn’t there. Kids won’t care about that, of course, but this kind of faux pas does hinder the novel from being appreciated beyond its target audience. Quibbles aside, the author demonstrates a good writing ability that shows a lot of promise. I have to confess, also, that I’m reading well outside my preferred genres on this one. Any children’s literature I do read tends to be the more gritty “young adult” stuff. I think kids will enjoy Anne Droyd.

A sequel, Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows, is due to be published in 2008. Keep up to date with news on the author’s blog.

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