Stuck for gift ideas? Books Editor Emma Holifield reviews Rob Ryan’s beautifully illustrated book…
Arriving in an exciting package wrapped with special Rob Ryan tape, everything about Rob Ryan’s new book The Invisible Kingdom is a delight. Oversized like a picture book, just picking up the text stirs memories of the anticipation associated with opening up a children’s story. Even the book’s jacket holds surprises, doubling up as a huge poster for those who, like me, find themselves unable to resist peeking at the cover underneath.
But unlike the scantily worded picture books of my childhood, this book holds an expansive magical tale that spans 60 elaborate and beautiful pages. The book follows the childhood of a solemn and studious young prince as he battles with his solitary life. Haunted by the knowledge that his future path has already been mapped out for him, the Prince feels confined by the walls of his palace home. The palace’s royal Bootman acts as a source of constant reassurance for the boy. He fuels the Prince’s imagination and helps him to discover that his palace home offers more freedom than it first appears.
These themes of royalty and nocturnal adventure may seem to be primarily suited to a young reader. However, a darker thread of loss interweaves the narrative, meaning the story transcends such age restrictions. Ryan’s tale poignantly describes a father and son trying to build a relationship when they already know it is far too late. Indeed, the story’s focus on the time the pair have lost to studying and completing royal duties is a welcome sentiment for students, providing plenty of justification for avoiding uni work over Christmas!
The strange setting of Ryan’s story also serves to expand the story’s appeal. Its princely protagonist brings initial expectations that this story will follow many children’s fairytales to be set in a romanticised, unspecified past. Yet electric lamp posts, cars and traffic lights grace the pavements of the book’s fictional city. Rather than stumbling across mythical mermaids, fishermen spend their day boxing their haul into lorries to stock fish and chip shops whilst the Prince scales a towering crane. If this strange tale can even be considered a fairytale, it is certainly one that has been modernised.
As well as offering rich decoration, Ryan’s distinctive pictures frame his text wonderfully. The distinct changes in colouring throughout the text complement and enhance Ryan’s poetic language, ensuring that every page is unique. Each turn of the page offers a scene that is as intricate and detailed as Ryan’s singular works of art. The artist’s skill is particularly clear in a striking scene showing the inside of the palace. The double page spread is filled with silhouetted images of the palace workers going about their duties, offering a scene of busy servant life that gives even Downton Abbey a run for its money.
Including both prose and song, the book proves that Ryan is as talented with words as he is with images. With Christmas fast approaching, this exquisite book would make a treasured gift for all ages. A truly enchanting tale, the story will immerse you in the Prince’s strange world and leave you excited for the next two instalments, both of which are due for release next year.
Emma Holifield, Books Editorbookmark me