Fantasy Publications

What happens when you find yourself trapped inside a story?
What happens if the only way out is to solve the riddles of the Very Bad Very Good Storyteller, Mr Aesop Sod?
And where, oh where, is Pop?
Ginny and her strange new friend, Digger Dagger, must navigate their way through this upside down, topsy turvy world where Don's Dairy has become Nod's Diary, the fish and chip shop is full of tropical fish tanks and wood chips, and the ghost train at the fun fair really is a ghost train.
How will the story end? Will Ginny and Digger Dagger find the answers they need?
Sometimes the answers are right there in front of you.
Award-winning author James Norcliffe has written a delightful story full of wordplay, old-world charm and imagination, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.

There have been some pleasant reviews of Twice Upon a Time

This from The Sapling:   

Poet and children’s writer James Norcliffe is a national treasure. He has been involved in the School for Young Writers in Christchurch for many years, and releases both poetry and junior fiction books regularly. Sarah Forster reviews his latest novel for children.


James Norcliffe specialises in strong, wild characters and a whiff of magic. The Loblolly Boy won the Junior Fiction Book of the Year in 2010 with just that mix. His new title, Twice Upon a Time, is no exception.


Ginny is having a nap one afternoon in the hammock when she becomes aware of somebody visiting. Thinking it would be Pop (Pop by name, pop by nature), she is surprised but not overly alarmed to find a small gnomish creature there instead, with no more idea than Ginny has of what he is doing there or how he got there. Ginny sends him on his way, but soon enough Pop is revealed to have disappeared, and Digger Dagger (for this is the gnome’s name) figures perhaps he is there because of this disappearance, and offers to help her find him. 


Thus begins a wild journey that actually takes place within a few blocks of Ginny’s house, in a back-to-front world. Don’s Dairy has become Nod’s Diary; the Fish N Chip shop has become the Chip N Fish shop; the Fun Fair has taken a sinister turn (don’t go in the Ghost Train) and the Very Good Very Bad Storyteller Sod and the Very Bad Very Good Storyteller Nod are keeping our characters on our toes.


Over the course of the book, Ginny and Digger Dagger are set three riddles which they must solve to find out where Pop is. They are helped by Nod occasionally, Topper rarely, along with Pop’s dog and a girl who they meet at the Chip and Fish Shop. 


I think Twice Upon a Time is going to be a boon to every teacher and bookseller who has wondered what to recommend after the 'Faraway Tree' series. However, the language has a lot more depth and imagination than Blyton's and I can see teachers rubbing their hands together as they get the kids involved dissecting the tricks and trips of the tongue Norcliffe uses to bring his characters to life. Digger Dagger and Ginny often get caught up in puns, and the language is playful and delicious throughout.

And here is the review from The Reader (The Booksellers New Zealand Blog)

When Ginny meets a gnome named Digger Dagger in her garden, neither of them are sure where in the world he has come from. There isn’t much time for wondering, however – Ginny’s beloved Pop has gone missing, and not even the police can seem to find him! Luckily for Ginny, Digger Dagger seems to know what they need to do. Together, they must solve three riddles for the Very Bad Very Good Storyteller to figure out where Pop has gone.

In the strange world that Ginny and Digger Dagger journey through to find Pop, everything seems to be back to front. The Fish N Chip shop has been replaced with the Chip N Fish shop. The fun fair in town has become the Unfairground, and the ghost train now has a terrifying twist. As Ginny and Digger Dagger solve their riddles and search for clues in this topsy-turvy world, they are helped (and hindered) by a cast of quirky characters – the Very Good Very Bad Storyteller, a man in a red top hat, Pop’s dog Badger and a girl in a polka dot sweater.

The way that the story combines such imaginative magical themes with settings that are so uniquely New Zealand is exactly what made The Loblolly Boy such a fabulous read. With imaginative characters, fast-paced dialogue and a great deal of lamingtons, Twice Upon a Time is a wonderfully fresh fantasy novel. I think that this book will be hugely popular with children who have a penchant for magic, quests and puzzles. As with all of James Norcliffe’s work, the writing is juicy with clever wordplay; it isn’t dry for a second, and will hook readers of all kinds.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Poet and children’s writer James s a national treasure. He has been involved in the School for Young Writers in Christchurch for many years, and releases both poetry and junior fiction books regularly. Sarah Forster reviews his latest novel for children.

Poet and children’s writer James Norcliffe is a national treasure. He has been involved in the School for Young Writers in Christchurch for many years, and releases both poetry and junior fiction books regularly. Sarah Forster reviews his latest novel for children.

The Pirates and the Nightmaker

 The Pirates and the Nightmaker was published in 2016.

Here is how it is described on the Random House Website:   A strange and mischievous story written with exceptional style, pace and grace — a true classic in the making.

It’s 1740 . . . The Firefly is taken in the night by pirates who sail the Caribbean. The ship’s boy and a handful of men are set adrift in a jolly-boat. Without food or water the half-starved men eye up the young boy. Astonishingly, a mysterious Mr Wicker saves the boy by turning him into an unearthly creature — an invisible flying boy with beautiful emerald-green wings. When the boy is drawn to a ghost ship sailed by Captain Bass, he learns of the dangerous power of a magical astrolabe which Mr Wicker desperately seeks — and why Wicker must never find it. The boy cannot trust Wicker . . . but is there anyone he can trust? Captain Bass? Sophie Blade, the pirate’s daughter? And who can return him to himself? -
See more at:  

Here a couple of previews of The Pirates and the Nightmaker from NZ blog posts

From Barbara Murison”s blog Around the Bookshops  

The hub of this story is a magic astrolabe which must be guarded at all costs from the sinister Mr Wicker. Add castaways, a ghost ship, pirates and an invisible boy with emerald green wings and a meticulously written and devised story emerges that will be hard to put down whether or not the reader has already met the Loblolly Boy and wondered about his origins. The reader feels safe in the hands of a master storyteller and totally satisfied with the ending that comes as a great surprise.  Don’t spoilt it for yourself by looking at the last few pages!!    

From Bobs Books Blog by Bob Docherty

The Pirates and the Nightmaker by James Norcliffe. Pub. Longacre, 2015.

After I had read James Norcliffe’s two novels about the Loblolly Boy I wondered how the Loblolly Boy had come into existence, who was the mysterious Captain Bass and what was the significance of the astrolabe. If you are of the same mind read this latest novel and find out.

Even if you are not this novel is quite fascinating and once you start it will draw you in and keep you hanging on till the story is told. It is set in the Caribbean on the Spanish Main at a time when everybody was a pirate of some description whether you worked for the British, the Spanish or the French. Treasure was what mattered but in this case the astrolabe is the prize. The War of Jenkins Ear between Spanish and British has occurred and the Spanish have beaten the British from their stronghold in the port fortress of Cartagena.

I have been to Cartagena and you still have to watch your back. It was also the setting for the crocodile scene in the film Romancing the Stone. Just about every character is a villain and the only innocents are the Loblolly Boy and the daughter of a female pirate captain, Sophie. Sophie can see the Loblolly Boy and only sensitives can. A ruthless sorcerer from the netherworld called Mr Wicker has turned a young boy into the Loblolly Boy for his own ends. The Loblolly Boy is invisible to most mortals, is unaffected by weather, never eats and can fly. The aim of Wicker is to reclaim the astrolabe from Cartagena because the astrolabe has the power to turn night into day and day into night while this occurs great mischief can be done.  

The real star of this book is the storytelling power of James Norcliffe and the language that he uses. Norcliffe is not only a teller of great stories he is a wordsmith. His imagery, dialogue and description is outstanding.   Read it yourself. The ending is a big surprise. For good primary and intermediate readers and secondary readers will go for it too.    

Felix and the Red Rats

Fantasy, adventure and realism combine in a junior fiction novel by an award-winning writer.

When David's uncle comes to visit he sets off a bizarre series of events. Things become complicated when the pet rats turn bright red.

David senses that somehow the red rats are connected to the story he is reading, and he becomes more convinced when the colour red becomes contagious.

The parallel story sees Felix and his friend Bella inadvertently shifted into a strange land where they must solve a riddle. But this puts them into great danger. How will they escape and find their way home?

Young readers will want to solve the confusing conundrum of the red rats; they'll delight in the word riddles and be absorbed by David's story as well as by the fantastical adventures of Felix and Bella, skilfully told by the NZ Post Award-winning writer James Norcliffe.

ISBN: 9781775533245
Published: 03/05/2013
Imprint: Longacre Child
Extent: 248 pages

Felix and the Red Rats
has been selected for a Storylines Notable Book Award 2014 in the  Junior Fiction section.

Felix and the Red Rats
was a finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the Junior Fiction Category

Felix and the Red Rats was a finalist for the 2014 LIANZA Esther Glen Medal   in the Junior Fiction Category

Felix and the Red Rats is a finalist for the 2015 Sakura Medal in Japan


Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe (Longacre)      

David is pleased when his mum’s Uncle Felix is coming to stay. Uncle Felix is the author of a series of fantasy books about the land of Auxillaris that David has read and enjoyed. The two main characters are named Felix and Bella.   But David’s older brother and sister, twins Gray and Martha, think Uncle Felix is weird. Gray in particular isn’t happy that he and his pet rats have to move into David’s room.

During his great uncle’s stay, David begins to reread his favourite of his uncle’s books ‘Into Auxillaris’.   When Gray discovers his pet rats have turned tomato red, he blames his little brother. David denies everything but notices Uncle Felix looking very thoughtful. Do the red rats have anything to do with the book he is reading?  

As he reads further into the story, David learns that the novels were set in his own suburb, and Bella is based on a real person. When more strange things occur, the entire family is trying to figure out what is happening. Does Uncle Felix know more than he is letting on?  

Another fabulous fantasy from the author of the award winning ‘Loblolly Boy,’ this story is told in alternate chapters of reality and fantasy, blending together effortlessly. It tells a tale of sibling rivalry, an exiled princess, strange creatures, an evil ruler and a riddle to be solved. There is some challenging vocabulary throughout the story but this only adds to the imaginative narrative. Great for readers 9+  

Dive in and enjoy the ride!

Here are the first two Reviews to come in Felix and the Red Rats helped me understand why they found it so pleasurable. New Zealand author James Norcliffe has weaved fantasy with a good family yarn to produce an intriguing story.

I'm liking The first paragraph of Chapter One: Great Uncle Felix illustrates perfectly James’s award winning style of writing 'But why?  demanded Martha.'He's such a weirdo, said Grey I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t upset that Mum’s uncle was coming to stay. I was younger and I’d kind of liked him. He was different, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with different really.

The conclusion James Norcliffe, does not have to try hard make his stories relevant and popular with young readers. James great skill is that he can write simply and spin a yarn that can be enjoyed at many different levels.

The intrigue he builds up ensures that many torches will be illuminating the undersides of duvets throughout New Zealand as young readers race to find out what happens to Felix and the Rats.  

This Review from Gillian Vine in the Otago Daily Times  

The story-within-a-story technique is not new but in Felix and the Red Rats, James Norcliffe gives it a neat twist. David's Great-uncle Felix, a writer of children's books set in a land called Axillaris, comes to stay. David's brother, Gray, is unimpressed, especially when he discovers that the hero of the Axillaris books it called Felix. ''What a bighead,'' he scoffs. Then strange things start happening, beginning with Gray's white rats turning red. Meanwhile, David is re-reading his favourite Axillaris book - reproduced between the present-day action - and it slowly dawns on him that it is not fiction but an account of Felix's genuine experience.

But what is the significance of the red rats? An entertaining novel for readers aged 10 and above.   

This from Maria Gill in KidsBooksNZ BlogKidsBooksNZ

Review from Simon Litten on the NZFFANZ Site

Felix And The Red Rats

by James Norcliffe

Supplied for review by Random House New Zealand    
Felix and the Red Rats is the latest children’s novel from James Norcliffe and a ripping wee yarn, rather a ripping two yarns, it is too.

This book comprises the story of David, his Uncle Felix and some rats under the care of David’s brother that have turned a bright tomato red. Within the book is a story being read by David but written by Uncle Felix about his first adventure in the fantasy land of Axillaris.

David’s story is a mystery tale – just why are rats and then cats turning red – without murders but with a very grumpy elder brother. Felix’s tale is a contest between greed and rightful inheritance played out around a most puzzling brain teaser problem – because to get her inheritance the not-quite-imprisoned princess must first solve a riddle, and to get it wrong would pass her inheritance to her greedy uncle.

James Norcliffe has set the tones of the two stories at the appropriate pitch, with fully realised characters and plots in both tales; and at the end very fittingly ties them together in the final chapter.

Felix and the Red Rats was a real pleasure to read. Strongly recommended. I liked the puzzle too; took me a while to solve it.

Review from Bob Docherty on Bob’s Book Blob

Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe. Pub. Longacre, 2013.

This is a multi level novel that explores the proposition that the line between fantasy and reality is a lot fuzzier than we think. Readers and writers of children’s literature know this already of course so it is always good when a children’s novel proves how true it is.

Uncle Felix who has written a children’s novel called Into Axillaris and he comes to visit David and his older brother Gray and sister Martha. Felix has a friend called Bella who is a flaming redhead. Why is this relevant to the tale?

While Felix is in the house the white rats being looked after by Gray turn brilliant red then appear to turn white then red again. How mysterious?

Meanwhile David is reading uncle Felix’s novel in which two children, Felix and Bella while being chased by bullies who stole Bella’s diary, stumble through a way station into the land of Axillaris.

Axillaris is ruled by a Regent who will not give power over to the Princess until she solves a riddle. Do Felix and Bella have the solution to the riddle without knowing it? What about the diary?

How is the real life story linked to the fantasy story of Axillaris? Read it and find out.

Very clever writing from James Norcliffe. Almost a new Halfmen of O. All levels will get something out of this.

The Enchanted Flute


A flute that will only play one mysterious song? A strange old man in a wheel chair somehow rejuvenated by this music? A leap from a window into a strange and often frightening world where nobody can be trusted and from which there seems to be no escape? The Enchanted Flute sweeps Becky Pym and Johnny Cadman from the realities of modern day school and the suburbs into an ancient Arcadian world where an old battle is about to be reignited and where even older forces are preparing themselves. The flute Becky's mother bought at a pawn shop proves to be a catalyst, a prize all forces seek. Becky herself, as the one who plays its enchanted music, becomes the focus of their needs and animosities. Lost, pursued, separated at times, Becky and Johnny are swept along by events out of their control until the final confrontation between ancient enemies. A wonderfully inventive story resounding with familiar myths and old stories, but typically grounded in a contemporary sense. It's a delightfully, believable fantasy charged with musical language and a dangerous, menacing edge.

 ISBN: 9781869799267

Imprint: Longacre Child
Childrens Fiction Release: 05 April 2012

The Enchanted Flute has been shortlisted for the 2013 Sir Julius Vogel Awards for Junior Fiction Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer 


The story picks up where we left off with the loblolly boy.

Michael convinces the unhappy boy at the Great Hall toExchange with him once again and leaves with his sisters
and mother to return home. The loblolly boy immediately flies off to see Captain Bass to ask for help: he doesn’t
want to be an invisible, isolated loblolly boy any longer.

Characteristically unsympathetic, the Captain sings the boy a song that holds the secret clues to finding his home.
He is warned: trust, seek, beware and fear the Jugglers, the Gadget Man and the Sorcerer.

Confused the loblolly boy begins his magical journey home where he’s drawn to the Jugglers — three blind sisters who
juggle white doves in the moonlight. One dove, his guiding light, leads him far away to a place where he instinctively
knows he needs to be: close to his family. He sees the boy who may be living his life, Benjy, but will Benjy agree to

Disconcertingly Benjy’s in big trouble; at home, at school and at the local shop. On the verge of being expelled
from school he decides to Exchange with the loblolly boy ostensibly as an easy way out. But beware! Turns out Benjy’s
a bit of a trickster.

Complications, twists and stunts abound once the mischievous and perverse Sorcerer and the bumbling but well-meaning Gadget Man decide to assist in the bizarre turn of events: a waiter is turned into a mad dog, a boy into
a cockatoo, a skeleton key comes to life.

This a stand alone fantasy novel The Loblolly Boy and
the Sorcerer 

Released: 01 April 2011

Imprint: Longacre / Random House

Awards News to hand is that the book has been nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards

28 February, 2012. Announced that The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer has been chosen as a finalist in the 2012 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards,, junior fiction section.


The Loblolly Boy

The Loblolly Boy published as The Strange and Diverting Story of The Loblolly Boy a Fantasy Novel involving Enchantment, Mystery, one Garden Gnome and a Wombat's Bottom by Longacre Press, a division of Random House NZ in New Zealand in 2009

Published as The Loblolly Boy by Allen & Unwin in Australia, 2009.

Also published in Australia as an audio book by Louis Braille Audio (2010).

Published as The Boy Who Could Fly by Egmont USA in the United States, 2010.

The cover of the Egmont USA Library Edition of the book.


To the boy called Red, it seems the most marvellous escape he could wish for: a gift that grants him more freedom than he ever believed possible - the chance to fly, to soar with the gulls, high over the tall brick walls that have imprisoned him for so long.

But this gift comes with a terrible price - and puts him in grave danger.

Is there anyone Red can trust to help him? The curious Captain Bass who has strange powers of his own? The wildly unpredictable twin sisters he is strangely drawn to?

In this magical, mysterious story, Red's adventure is like a chamber of mirrors at a carnival - a dazzliong and breath taking tale.

"This is a rich fantasy - alive with original twists and mysteries which I dare not reveal. Children's literature is about to be enriched with a new classic."  Margaret Mahy.


Winner Junior Fiction Award at the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, 2010.

Shortlisted for 2010 LIANZA Esther Glen Medal.

Shortlisted for 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Award

Storylines Notable Book, 2010

2011 USBBY Outstanding International Books List (a list of the 40 outstanding international children's books published or distruibuted in the USA)


...Norcliffe’s delightful prose, humour and adult insights ensure that he has written that rare children’s book, as much a joy for adults to read as for children... So go on, pick up a copy for your kids, your nephews and nieces, your younger siblings, whomever you want. Just make sure you read it first!...

Gerard Woods Review from Science Fiction World

...The Loblolly Boy is intriguing, engrossing and wholly satisfying... a highly original fantasy story, and surprisingly for someone who does not read or usually like fantasy, this one I highly recommend...

Fran Knight Review from Read Plus

...A unique and original fantasy, complete with adventure, magic and appealing characters, this is a tale that was hard to put down....
 Pat Pledger Review from Read Plus

...a fast paced narrative, full of surprises, imagination and humour...

Janice Rodriguez Review from National Library of New Zealand

...This sparkling fantasy novel explores a child’s need to be with his own family – even if they are fractured, poor and struggling to cope. The author writes with rare insight into the mind of a young person discovering what is of lasting value in life. Highly recommended.

Jean Bennett in Bookrapt

... an imaginative and richly atmospheric fantasy with sympathetic characters. ... a haunting story that will capture most readers’ imaginations....  

Booklist (USA)

The Loblolly Boy by James Norcliffe is an entrancing, exciting, unexpected read .... it has a wondrous, magical fairy-tale ambience ... I never quite knew where it was going or how it would be resolved.

George Ivanoff in  Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus (ASFF)

Title: The Assassin of Gleam

Date: 2006

Publisher: Hazard Press


Launched by internationally acclaimed children's, young adult and fantasy author, Margaret Mahy

Anchored in a fearsome past of tyrant rulers and black magic, Gleam is a fiefdom gripped in the clutches of its ruler, the Markgrave, who has crushed freedom and hope.

An ancient prophecy promises a bright new beginning for Gleam, but to destroy any chance of its being fulfilled, the Markgrave seeks the help of the Brotherhood, a mysterious order of scholars and practitioners of the dark arts.

Into this menacing world comes a young woman, Johanna, and her brother, Tobias.

Tobias’s craving for power makes him an unwitting pawn in the Brotherhood’s evil. Johanna, meanwhile, is chosen to be the victim whose sacrifice will preserve the regime of the tyrant Markgrave.

But Johanna has two unlikely allies: a gentle musician and a runaway jester.

To thwart the forces gathered against them, these three will descend into a darkness deeper than any they have ever known and discover resources of courage and invention they could not have imagined they possessed.

James Norcliffe has previously published four highly original fantasy novels for young adults (Under the Rotunda, Penguin Bay, The Emerald Encyclopedia, which won an honour award in the AIM Children’s Book Awards, and The Carousel Experiment). These were all marked by fast-moving action, cleverly engineered plots, oddball humour, and situations in which his young characters are confronted by the mysterious and the bizarre.

Much more ambitious in its themes and scope, The Assassin of Gleam gives his readers, young and old, an altogether darker and deeper experience and signals an exciting new direction for one of New Zealand’s most imaginative writers of fiction. Conceived as the first of a series of novels in which the world of Gleam with its secrets and mysteries is examined, The Assassin of Gleam was to be followed by the equally compelling The Mistress of Yewfire and The Witch of Aboraxus.

ISBN: 1-877270-99-7 


Winner 2007 Sir Julius Vogel Award for best New Zealand Science Fiction / Fantasy novel 2006

Shortlisted for the LIANZA Esther Glen Medal, 2007


Magic Woven with Imagination
The Assassin of Gleam by James Norcliffe

by Dave Pope Hawkes Bay Today

The city of Gleam is in the hands of the tyrant, Markgrave, who rules with a paranoid iron first. As the end of the century approaches, the Markgraves’ hereditary reign is threatened by the whispers of a prophecy about a maiden who will bring freedom to the people of Gleam.
This is where the unlikely heroes of the dark tale enter, an impulsive student Tobias, his quieter, deeper sister Johanna and their Uncle Hugh, a musician. They stay in the city past curfew, after staying over-long in a tavern. As they run from the city guards they have to make some hard choices as to their future. Tobias enters into a pact with a mysterious Brotherhood, a group of sinister scholars whose ambitions are not for the faint-hearted. Johanna becomes a pawn in the Markgraves’ plans to preserve his reign of tyranny and High, with the aid of a runaway jester, must thwart the plans of all.
This is where Norcliffe weaves his magic as a writer. In any other fantasy story the main characters would be the ones who would be the liberators, but here Norcliffe gives his characters choices, temptations and alternatives.
‘Death over life and power over love.’ Like all good stories this one has a plot within a plot within a plot. It keeps the reader wanting more, as minor characters are drawn into this dark tale and you are left wondering whether good will triumph over evil, and it does not let up until the last page. The story ends with an opening for a sequel, but we shall have to wait and see. 

The Assassin of Gleam  by Heather Murray New Zealand Books Autumn 2007

An experienced and popular writer of children's and young adult fiction, Norcliffe draws on his experience as historian and poet to create a logical, believable and exciting story out of an alienating and threatening world, the ancient fiefdom of Gleam where good is taking a thrashing from evil, and a particularly nasty villain, the Markgrave, keeps his people enslaved.

A rumour is abroad that hope lies in a promised 'Maiden' who might free the people and banish tyranny. Young Johanna, her borther Tobias, their musican uncle and a stout-hearted aunt (tomented by a feckless husband and far too much housework) represents the 'good'. But it is not as simple as that: Tobias, while intelligent and promising, is also easily seduced by power, and the traditional dichotomy of good and evil is mired by the ambiguous monks who live mysteriously independent of the Markgrave throught their higher learning and access to books.

There are many promising lines in plot and characters which will no doubt be developed in sequels to this first of series. There are excellent descriptions of the cold hostility of the town, the menace of the corrupted blackhearts, and the random viciousness of the totalitarian state. There are some great set pieces, such as the horrors of a snake kept inside a jeroboam of wine.

Though Norcliffe creates frightening worlds, [he] grounds his story and characters in acceptable reality through using known language, and even if he does operate at the mandarin end of it, The Assassin of Gleam challenges young readers in ways in which teachers tell us they should be extended.

Deep and dark: by Trevor Agnew The Christchurch Press

On a planet with two moons, the lost city of Gleam is ruled by the tyrant Markgrave. As the turn of the century approaches, his hereditary reign is threatened by the bubbling-up among his cowed subjects of a prophecy about a Maiden who will bring them freedom. This could have been just another cardboard fantasy cliché but instead James Norcliffe has breathed life into his characters and situations. The result is a skilfully told story, with a dark mood and a sense of urgency.

It is clear that a master storyteller is at work from the first sentence, where we read that Gleam’s streets are “gripped in a fist of darkness.”

Down these mean streets run the rash and impulsive student Tobias, his quieter, deeper sister Johanna and their Uncle Hugh, a musician. In most fantasies these three would become the unlikely liberators, but this novel is more sophisticated and the trio are running towards a grimmer and more convincing fate. Tobias is faced with the ultimate temptation: to choose “death over life and power over love.” These are terrible choices, and the decision Tobias makes has equally terrible ramifications.-

It is not giving the plot away to say that The Assassin of Gleam is a novel about power, one that is extremely realistic about human nature and politics. As the tavern-keeper Mother Grayling warns, the ruler who replaces the Markgrave would be “no sunrise but another jackal who sooner or later would…bare his fangs.” Johanna suddenly finds herself at the centre of a complex struggle involving the mysterious Brotherhood, a group of sinister scholars, while Hugh’s only ally is Dragonet, a runaway jester. Meanwhile the Markgrave believes that to kill an idea, it first has to be made incarnate.

The bleak world of Gleam has the convincing quality of a complex dream. Even minor figures are well-drawn. Many of the characters have hidden depths and none are stereotypes. Their very surnames are reminders that Norcliffe is also a poet. His narrative achieves an almost mythic power, while the pace of the tale never flags. Small but important revelations keep occurring right to the last chapter. This is a masterly crafted and readable novel. The best news about this handsomely-pro-duced volume, written while the author was Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University, is that while it has a perfectly satisfying conclusion, it also leaves the way open for a sequel. Or a series.

Title: The Carousel Experiment


When Larry discovers a letter from his mother he can’t understand why the return address is Christchurch and not the ashram in India his father had told him about. Determined to find his mother, Larry sets off to the mysterious Carousel Caravan Park and encounters more than he bargained for - giant caretakers with miniature children, drugged food and campers in a dream-like trance, the secretive Amy, alien archaeologists... The Carousel Caravan Park turns out to be far more than simply a holiday getaway, and it’s up to Larry to save not only himself, but all of its ‘willing’ guests. Also by James Norcliffe: The Chinese Interpreter, The Emerald Encyclopedia, Letters to Dr Dee. Bottom of Form

Date 1995

Publisher: Hazard Press

ISBN: 0-908790-86-4 

Title: The Emerald Encyclopedia


What had been a dull green checked pattern now shone with an inner emerald glow. Dark green, light green, grids apparently backlit like thinly sliced greenstone, and all this on a background of golden green like new leaves. It was beautiful, and I handled it reverently as befitting the precious thing it was. ‘Fraser!’ Katherine’s voice was sharp with alarm. ‘Isn’t it lovely?’ I showed it to her, wanting her to see it, wanting her to understand its luminous loveliness. Her voice was angry. ‘No it isn’t, Fraser! It’s awful! It’s hideous! And it’s working on you!’...

The Emerald Encyclopedia glowed with possibilities Fraser could not resist. But why did it promise so much, and then deliver so little? And why did each promise contain an increasingly sinister catch? Could Fraser resist the dark forces attempting to manipulate him, or would he betray everything he held most precious? Honour Award, Senior Fiction Category, AIM Children’s Book Awards, 1995.

Date: 1994

Publisher: Hazard Press

ISBN: 0-908790-63-5 


Honour Award, Aim NZ Children's Book Awards, 1995


Title: Penguin Bay


...he realized instantly that there was a figure standing there, a huge figure he'd never seen before in his life. It wasn't the figure that unleashed the surge of sheer terror that pulsed through him, however: it was the axe the figure was holding. The large old-fashioned axe and the horrible way it was being held in the chopping position...

All Rufus wanted to do for his sister and the children was a holiday of peace and quiet in the tranquil seclusion of Penguin Bay...

But appearances were deceiving. Their arrival threatened so many things: crimes of the present and ghosts of the past.

Rufus could not have known he was delivering them into a frightening trap from which only courage, ingenuity, and a lot of luck could save them...

Date: 1993

Publisher: Hazard Press

Title: Under the Rotunda


...I carried on feeling my way round the rotunda, cold, wet, tired and more frightened than I could ever remember feeling.

"Kim! Where are you?"

And then I heard a low, inhuman moan. I gasped with panic. Then a second groan... And then, the wall of the rotunda had gone. My hand reached into thin air...

When Tom finds a note under his eiderdown instructing him to be at the rotunda at half past nine that night he doesn;t suspect that he and his friends, Kim and Effer, are about to become entangled in a bizarre and magical adventure.

But then, why would Effer's note also ask him to ring one of their teachers, Bob Horn? And what is the connection between the Blackwater Creek Silver Band and Henry Falco, part magician. Why do these people desperately want the battered old cornet once owned by Tom's grandfather? And why is the sinister and devious bandsman Ginger O'Reilley so determined to get to it first?


From its very first page this book lures the readerwith the promise of an intriguing story... This promise is fulfilled. Under the Rotunda is an intricate joke in which the fortunes of the characters fluctuate alarmingly... I think we could do with many more books like this... good humoured and above all else entertaining.   

Margaret Mahy

Date: 1992

Publisher: Hazard Press