First adult fantasy novel from a well-known purveyor of children's fantasies (Cold Shoulder Road
, 1995, etc.). Following climatic change, the British Isles are invaded by an entire menagerie of comic-horror monsters that rapidly turn the countryside into a depopulated wasteland. The government forms the anti-monster Cockatrice Corps and commissions a specially armored and armed train, the Cockatrice Belle, which will fight its way through to Manchester with a cargo of carrots to relieve the famine there. Young Corps drummer Dakin Prestwick is particularly pleased, since in Manchester live his cousin Sauna and her weird old Aunt Florence. The Belle reaches Manchester without too many mishaps, and Sauna and Dakin are reunited, though Aunt Florence mysteriously vanishes. Sauna, with her precognition, receives a message two days before it's sent, to the effect that the Belle must proceed into Scotland to confront the source of evil. So, joined by Dr. Wren, the Archbishop of Lincoln, the treacherous Tom Flint, and a doleful Gridelin hound that understands only German, the train proceeds to Fife, where Sauna and Dakin must locate a manuscript written by the medieval alchemist Michael Scott before the bad guys can grab it and make their conquest permanent. Whimsical and sprightly, but not even half worked-out—and the ending just fizzles. A mystery why this one was singled out for adult consumption, but Aiken's going to have to work much harder if she hopes to grab the attention of a mature audience.
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