The Cockatrice Boys (Joan Aiken)

The Cockatrice Boys is a young adult/children’s novel by Joan Aiken.
Finished on: 10.9.2016

The United Kingdom is facing a plague of monsters, called cockatrices, of all shapes and sizes that pretty much overran the entire country. But there are the Cockatrice Corps, an army special unit dedicated to fight the monsters. As they ride the train across the country fighting monsters along the way, they are joined by Dakin as a drummer boy and a little later by his cousin Sauna who seems to have a way of knowing things she couldn’t know and who has spent the last few years tied up at her aunts place so she doesn’t break anything. And maybe those two are just what the Corps needed to finally get ahead in the fight.

The Cockatrice Boys didn’t really convince me, unfortunately. I thought it was often confusing and rarely all that funny. It just left me scratching my head.


The book is often rather incoherent in how its plot unfolds or the conclusions that are drawn (and sometimes it’s a little too obvious). Fittingly, the end comes out of nowhere and then the novel just stops. That abruptness only enhanced the feeling of irritation and confusion that often found me while I was reading the book. I still don’t know exactly what happened.

At least every once in a while the novel was actually funny, in about the same way that Jasper Fforde is funny, only that he really makes me laugh. Every once in a while, Aiken manages that as well, but most of the time she missed the mark for me. Although I have to admit that I loved this sentence:

“It’s because I play the drum real psychedelic.”

Rarely has there ever been a better reason.

I also liked the illustrations by Gris Grimly that fit the tone of the novel perfectly and yet added their own twist to it as well.

But despite those illustrations and the sense of humor that shimmered through every now and then, the book didn’t grow on me. And in the end, after the novel had stuck with traditional gender roles most of the time anyway, Sauna even had to be rescued so Dakin could have his moment to shine, the book really lost me. I was hoping for more from a writer as well-regarded as Aiken.

Summarizing: Maybe you really gotta be a kid to enjoy it. I didn’t get warm with it.


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