This is one of Starscape Books' better reprints, and one that relatively few readers will know about. Joan Aiken, best known for her "Wolves of Willoughby Chase" books, serves up a delightful fantasy/horror/comedy story that is sure to win over any fan of things that go bump in the night.
Cockatrices have invaded England. What are cockatrices? It's a general term for various malevolent, nasty, omnivorous beasties that arrived via luggage at an airport (hee!) and soon begin snorking up the unwary inhabitants. In a matter of years, people are hiding from them as they roam through England and lay waste to it. General Grugg-Pennington is given an order: Create an armored train and have a special corps of soldiers to deal with the cockatrices.
One of the people who volunteers is the boy Dakin -- Dakin is brought along because he plays the drums, and repetitive loud noises kill some of the cockatrices. Things become substantially more complex when Dakin's cousin Sauna ends up on the train as well. But something evil is massing in the north -- something connected to Sauna and the cockatrices, and something that will do anything to achieve its ends.
There are plot holes in this that you could throw a Flying Hammerhead through (why don't the people just leave England? Why can't they use an electronic recording instead of drums?) but somehow it never really matters. It's fun. Just fun. Aiken expertly mixes goofy Brit humor with a grimmer tone (sort of post-apocalypse-lite) in a newer kind of England where green leafy vegetables are a precious rarity and German dogs are imported to fight the Snarks. The flying sharks, the slightly dotty old lady, the pleasant old Brit soldiers, the apartment full of porcelain knickknacks, and so on. The plotting is tight; it gets darker as the book progresses, bringing in such old details as Michael Scott and covens of plotting witches.
Dakin is a suitably plucky everyboy, polite and dutiful and thoroughly sympathetic. Sauna is a bit more of a dark horse, as her ancestry and abilities are slowly revealed. The characters around them are less 3-D, but are great fun. There is some violence and creepiness, but nothing too major; this book may, however, scare some younger kids. The scenes with the eerie, almost ghoulish "Aunt Flossie" and her malicious rat were absolutely horrific.
Paper and binding are about average. My only beef? The cover! It's awful! Gris Grimly's drawings are quite good on the inside -- creepy and suitable, kind of a sharp-edged Edward Gorey -- ... In addition, the ending is a bit vague.
This is a really fun romp that kids will enjoy, and adults can chuckle over as well.