Illmoor’s capital has a problem: rats. And lots of them. Desperate for a solution, the chairman of the Dullitch Council seeks the help of Illmoor’s roving mercenaries, hoping to find someone who can tame the ever-swelling tide of rodents. Jimmy Quickstint, the chairman’s grandson and junior thief in training, returns to Dullitch with the hulking Groan Teethgrit and his angry dwarf sidekick, Gordo Goldeaxe. Together, they are Dullitch’s best hope to eradicate the rats—until Diek Wustapha arrives.
Diek, still just a boy, has been possessed by a magical power that gives him the uncanny ability to control not just animals, but also people. He gets rid of the rats in town, but the relief in Dullitch is short lived. The city refuses to pay Diek, and he does not take the insult lightly. He is determined to strike back at Dullitch by kidnapping all of the capital city’s children. That is, unless Jimmy Quickstint and his two new friends can find a way to stop him.
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The Ratastrophe Catastrophe
The Illmoor Chronicles
By David Lee Stone
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 David Lee Stone
All rights reserved.
Diek Wustapha dropped his flute. The leather-bound book that had been resting on his lap tumbled to the floor and lay open, its pages flapping in the breeze.
"What is it, lad?"
The boy turned and looked up at his father, his smile was apprehensive. "I thought I heard something, Dad."
"That'll be the cattle cart," said his father, quietly grateful that his son had stopped playing; Diek's musical ability suggested possible employment in the torture trade.
Mr. Wustapha looked out over a broad expanse of west-country farmland, his brow creased. A few cows in the field opposite had wandered over to the gate and were mooching idly about.
"No, it was more like a feeling than a sound. I thought I felt something."
"Well, that'll be your dinner," his father continued, reflecting on years of terror at the dinner table. Mrs. Wustapha was one of a long line of cooks on her mother's side of the family. He hoped fervently she would be the last. "You know something, boy, when I first met your ma, she used to make puddings the like of which would turn your stomach inside out for days on end."
"Yes, Dad. So you've told me. Repeatedly."
"Fair enough. You're reading again, I see?"
Diek nodded, sliding his flute under a rock with the heel of his boot. He snatched up the book. "It's called Ancient Royal Fables."
"Good lad," said his father, patting the boy affectionately on the shoulder. "Have you got to the bit where Huud the Wise tells Prince Kellogg to go round up the sheep?"
Diek looked up. His father was waiting patiently, a grin spreading across his broad face.
"I'll go and round the sheep up now, Dad," he said, with a knowing smile.
Diek got to his feet and set off toward the north field. His father watched him go.
Diek wasn't a bad lad, he thought, at least, not in the conventional sense. He just dawdled from time to time, lacked direction. Perhaps he should take his brother's advice and send Diek to Legrash for the summer, let him experience a bit of the real world. What harm could it do?
He stroked his chin thoughtfully, wondering exactly how much trouble a young boy could get into in a town like Legrash. A boy like Diek. Probably best not to speculate. He whistled a merry tune and headed off to see how his son was getting on with the sheep.
The magic sank into Diek's mind like a stone plunging down a deep well. There it lay low, biding its time with patience born of millennia lingering in deep caverns, lurking in dormant hollows.
When the magic decided to surface, it did so with such reptilian guile that no human eye could detect the change. Diek Wustapha, however, was cursed with the ownership of a barrowbird with particularly keen sight.
The barrowbird is a curious creature indeed. One of the High Art's darker throwbacks, it was rumored to have once been an ordinary scrawny relative of the forest hornbill. Legend holds that on the few occasions throughout history when the gods decided to visit Illmoor, they did so by inhabiting the minds of barrowbirds. On one such occasion, it is said that one particularly spiteful god decided to leave something behind: the curse known as Vocalis Truthilium, commonly translated as "I speak as I find."
And the barrowbird did just that. In fact, it gave a new and terrible meaning to the phrase. No personal comment was beyond it. Despised as a species, its put-downs included such harsh observations as "You'll never get a girlfriend unless you actually cut that ear off," and the oft heard "If I had a figure like yours, love, I'd stay indoors for the duration."
Now Diek's own barrowbird was treating him to a baleful stare. "There's somethin' amiss with your right eyeball," it chirped. "'S glowin' like an ember, ain't it?"
Diek blinked and raised a hand to his head. He'd been propped against one corner of the pigpen all morning, watching the truffle hogs misbehaving. "Maybe I'm coming down with something," he said, beginning to wander off around the side of the pen. "I do feel a bit odd."
He reached for his flute and brought the instrument to his lips, but was interrupted before he was able to muster a tune.
"Could be fouleye," the barrowbird squawked. "You hear of a lot of folk dyin' from that."
"Dying? It's fatal?"
"Right as mustard. You ask anyone: 'How's your daughter, Milly?' 'Fouleye took her.' 'How's your aunty Ethel?' 'Down with fouleye.' One minute you can be runnin' around in a field, the next you're a goner. That's usually the females, mind. I never heard of a male taken with it yet."
"Okay, okay. It's probably not that, then."
Diek produced a single, shrill note from the flute, then stowed it away in his tunic. He didn't feel much like playing today; his heart really wasn't in it.
He sighed and closed his eyes tight, then tentatively opened them again. "Has it gone?" he asked.
"Has it, heck!" said the barrowbird. "Now they're both alight! Well, stone me. You're not standin' on a lightnin' rod or somethin', are ya?"
Diek took a step back, then looked around. "I'm not standing on anything," he said. "Besides, you noticed it when I was over there."
The barrowbird put its head on one side. "Then, if I were you, I'd go and see the apothecary or, come to that, the village witch."
"I need to do my chores. Besides, why would I want to see a witch?"
"Well, first there's the eye thing, and then maybe you could find out why you're suddenly such a magnet for the pigs."
Turning about on his heels, Diek noticed for the first time that all twelve of his father's hogs had followed him along the length of the pen and were now squatting in a group just beyond the fence. Curious. Usually, they ignored him completely, unless he had scraps. "Th-that's odd."
"Odd ain't the word, boy. 'F y'ask me, you're up the creek without a shovel."
"I think that's supposed to be a 'paddle,' and I feel fine, thank you. Now, I'm going to see to the milking ... alone.
The barrowbird hopped onto a nearby tree branch, and watched Diek skulk toward the milking shed. "Somethin' amiss," it muttered. "Somethin' amiss, right enough."
The milk was curdled. Rather, it hadn't been curdled when Diek had first picked up the bucket, but it was definitely curdled now.
Diek tipped the bucket, shaking his head as a series of fat, creamy blobs plopped onto the bench below. Odd. He took a step back, turned on his heels and stopped dead. All the cows were staring at him, their tails swishing in the shadows of the milking shed. There was definitely something wrong; they usually took no notice of him whatsoever.
Maybe it was time to see an apothecary....
Diek's visit to the apothecary wasn't entirely successful. The man, like most of the villagers, largely ignored everything Diek had to say, before supplying him with a strange potion that looked and tasted like seven-year-old jam. He was to take it three times a day, as instructed, or alternatively, whenever he "felt a bit odd." The old man certainly hadn't given him any useful advice, and quickly changed the subject when his flowers wilted as Diek got up to leave. On reflection, Diek had practically been thrown out of the shop, in the end.
Diek had always been a loner, but now he took to spending whole days in the fields by himself. He had decided to give the barrowbird to his father as a birthday present; its insults and depressing forecasts of hideous eye disorders had become unbearably tiresome. Also, it had started crowing about Diek's increasingly resonant voice and made a pointed comment that, every time he played a note on the flute, the neighbor's grimalkin came tearing across the Midden Field as though the hounds of hell were after it. He had seen that wretched cat a lot lately.
Weeks passed and, as the magic took root inside Diek's mind, it began to surface in a peculiar fashion, giving the boy an almost magnetic personality. His foolish absentmindedness became thoughtful contemplation; his inane and idiotic comments were replaced by clever and insightful witticisms. In short, people of Little Irksome began to notice Diek Wustapha.
They would spend a few moments talking with him, then trail after him in large groups, like sheep after a shepherd. This was all much to Diek's astonishment; he'd never had a lot of time for people before. Now they praised him and appreciated his music (unlike his father, who only tolerated the odd tune every evening after tea). These people wanted more. They would wait quite patiently all day, just on the off chance of a tune. It wasn't that his music was particularly melodic, as Diek would have been the first to admit. On the whole, it tended to comprise a few strangled notes huddling together in mournful misery.
Then, one afternoon, everything changed.
Diek had been playing for Butcha, the baker's niece, when suddenly the music came alive. He didn't even notice it happening; it was simply there at his lips, awaiting release. To the girl's mesmerized delight, he produced tune after tune, melody after melody, song after song. These delicate pieces floated into the air, twisting and turning in the breeze, and were carried for miles over the hills and dales. Slowly, one by one, the villagers of Little Irksome stopped what they were doing and craned their necks to listen. Then they put down their tools and washboards, snatched up their hats, and fastened their walking shoes. The cobbled lanes of the village were suddenly alive with curious people irrevocably drawn to the sound.
By midafternoon, the entire population of the village stood grouped around an oak tree in the Midden Field, listening to Diek Wustapha weave his tunes. And play he did. From that day forth, he knew that nothing in his life would ever be the same again.
So did his parents.
In practically no time at all, Diek's talents had become many, from snake charming to hypnotizing mice. Visitors arrived from a few of the neighboring villages to watch his skills and hear his music. Deep inside his subconscious the magic was throbbing, turning, gaining momentum. And he carried his flute wherever he went.
He'd taken to playing long, drawn-out melodies too, whimsical at first, and then, as the days drifted by, progressively stronger. Melodies could be more than mere tunes, he discovered. Melodies could be almost magical.
Diek found himself reflecting on things like the reception of spiritual messages, the existence of telepathic sheep and, more important, his part in the larger scheme of things.
"Everybody's got a place in the big picture, lad," his father would say. "It's just a matter of finding out where you fit in."
Diek wondered where he would fit in, and found himself gazing longingly toward Dullitch, capital city of Illmoor, with its gleaming spires and megalithic monuments.CHAPTER 2
It was summer in Dullitch, the air was clean and sobering, and the streets were filled with the combined odors of freshly baked bread and exotic spices. In the marketplace, throngs of hungry patrons lined up for the early bargains, and a few rogue mongrels gathered for free pastry offcuts at the baker's serving hatch.
It was the annual Clairvoyants' Awareness Weekend and a fete was being held in tribute to Ouija Mastook, the oldest (and most incontinent) medium on record. The guest of honor was due to arrive at midday and no one knew what to expect. The bandstand was currently being reinforced to withstand the weight of Mastook's entourage of nursing staff.
Usually, the ceremony consisted of a rambling speech, three (extraordinarily loud) cheers, and several rounds of celebratory drinks. Invariably, it would conclude with a séance in which somebody's aunt Margaret turned up to let them know that her valuables were hidden in the attic.
Atop the Church of Urgumflux the Wormridden, two members of the dreaded Yowler cult were taking turns peering through a spyglass at the proceedings below.
The Brotherhood of Yowler was indeed the stuff of nightmares. It was a ruthless organization rooted in the worship of dark gods who demanded the theft of priceless treasures and ritualistic executions to sustain their life force.
The Yowler cultists were cloaked assassins, thieves, and cutpurses, but their presence in Dullitch was endured because several of the city's founding families were members. These midnight rogues were extremely well paid and enjoyed considerable support from the City Council, who turned a blind eye to corrupt Yowler-run associations.
Mifkindle Green, a junior Yowler member, was "wasping." This meant dropping in at any large and important gathering, planting a sting (that is, assassinating the most prominent person there), and clearing out quickly to avoid capture. His colleague, Victor Franklin, a known night-runner and poison-dart specialist, was drumming his fingers distractedly on the stonework.
"W-w-will you stop that, Vic?" snapped Mifkindle.
"What? Oh, sorry, I just wondered why you hadn't fired yet. You're usually in and out in a cat's sneeze."
"Shhh. Can't you k-k-keep quiet? You've been so judgmental since you k-k-killed old Banks in that g-graveyard run."
Mifkindle's gaze returned to the scene, but he wasn't looking down toward the fete. He was staring intently at a small cottage garden on the opposite corner of the street.
"What is it?" Victor persisted, anxiously. "Have we been spotted? Is it the militia? What are you looking at?"
Victor boggled. "Come again?"
"R-r-ats," Mifkindle confirmed. "There's a l-l-line of them heading into the DeLongi place through a g-g-gap in the front wall."
"They're w-w-walking in s-single file, like an army. It's odd," he said, with conviction. "And I've seen a l-lot of them r-recently. Almost every d-d-day, in fact."
Victor shrugged. "Dullitch is a big city. You gotta expect rats."
"Not l-l-like th-these," said Mifkindle, pursing his lips as he passed the spyglass across to his partner.
"B-b-big, aren't they?" Victor said, after a pause.
Candleford School for Boys stood proudly on a slight rise in the northwest corner of the city. It was usually a place of high activity, breaking glass, and enthusiastic blasphemy. Now, however, during the summer holidays, the place was quiet.
In a room crammed with stoves and piled high with crockery, Bernard Grim, the ratcatcher, applied half an ear to the wall and listened intently. His apprentice, a boy named Malcolm, with rugged features and a black eye, watched with mounting trepidation.
"It could be a field mouse, Mr. Grim."
"Don't be ridiculous, lad," Grim growled. "You don't get field mice in a workhouse kitchen. Who ever heard of such a thing?"
"My uncle had one come into his kitchen," answered Malcolm.
"Your uncle's no better than he should be."
"Do you think it could be a rat?" piped up a short, plump maid with golden ringlets and a porkpie smile.
"Aye," said Grim, wondering about the unconcealed eagerness in her voice.
"Ain't nothing wrong with my uncle," said Malcolm sulkily.
Grim ignored him and leaned in closer, raising a finger and tapping tentatively on the woodwork. A scratching began on the other side of the wainscoting.
"He might be eccentric," continued Malcolm. "And I know he talks to himself a bit, but he's never done anyone no harm. Well, apart from that Mrs. Haveshank, and she said she wouldn't be pressin' charges."
"Quiet, lad! It's on the move; listen!" said Grim.
The apprentice knelt down beside his employer, face creased with the effort of concentration. Eventually, he gave a reluctant nod.
"Right," Grim whispered. "Get me a forty-seven from the cart."
Malcolm crept out of the kitchen and returned a few moments later, laden with an assortment of wooden planks. "I couldn't remember which one was which, Mr. Grim."
He passed a plank from the stack to the ratcatcher and waited patiently as Grim balanced it in the palm of his hand.
"That's a sixteen."
He handed back the plank and rolled his eyes as the apprentice chose another. "That's a one-seven-four."
"But they're identical, Mr. Grim."
Excerpted from The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone. Copyright © 2004 David Lee Stone. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A fun little book and an inventive retelling of the pied piper. I liked it, but it didn't engage my attention all the way to the end.
I was both hesitant and excited to read this retelling of a favorite classic. But in the end, I was happy with how it turned out to be something distinctively different from the original, yet still doing justice to the much-loved fable on which it is based. Dullitch is a fascinating city, richly imagined and elaborated upon. Filled with humans and all sorts of creatures such as trolls, sprites, pixies ogres, dwarves, elves, giants, and gnomes, it ensures an interesting plot that would keep the fantasy fanatic riveted. The story also has its fair share of humor, and whatever it lacks in other areas – specifically the disjointed writing - it makes up for with a few hilarious scenes. Even though I found the writing to be a little off-balance with sudden scene transitions, I was impressed by the amount of work the author put into fleshing out each character, as well as the in-depth world building that made me feel part of the realm of Illmoor. The characters are what drive this hilarious spin on the classic fable of the Pied Piper. Each character is uniquely flawed, and stands apart from the rest. The plot is filled with twists and surprises, and the ending is not what you’d expect. Overall, this was a fun read which reads so effortlessly I finished it in no time. Apart from the very simplistic writing which was sometimes more a miss than a hit, I still had a great time reading The Ratastrophe Catastrophe (try saying it five times really fast, I dare you)! I might actually read the rest of the series sometime.
An odd take on the pied piper plot. I enjoyed this book, which is clever and very funny in places, but I have since read and loved books 2 and 3 in the series, which are both an awful lot better. Book 3 (Shadewell) is possibly the best book I have read this year!
This book had a great concept but wasn't really descriptive enough for me. I like a book that shows me the story not tells me one. Although, I have to say the illustrations weren't too bad.
As a fan of young adult sci fi and fantasy, I was deeply disappointed in this 'book'. It had great promise as a paradoy of a well known fairy tale, The Pied Piper. But it fails. The characters are flat and unlikeable, and the dialogue tedious and predictable. There are NO characters for whom you feel sympathy, no good guys to win over the bad guys, and frankly the writing style is immensely immature. I felt like the author was enjoying showing off his ability to think up moderately clever names and write descriptive paragraphs about clouds. The plot was so slow it took me weeks to read, when normally I devour about a book a day. Don't waste your money. There are FAR better choices than this.
I haven't seen the finished book, but I did read the Uncorrected Advance Proof copy. I began reading last week and finished today. I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN!!! I believe it is an instant classic. Aside from the few errors that are to be expected from an uncorrected copy, this book was flawless. It was beautifully written and has a great mixture of comedy, action, and adventure. This book is a must for any and every collection.