Beyond the Deepwoods
by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
This book is the first in The Twig Trilogy, which itself is part of The Edge
Chronicles, an ongoing series by the Brighton, England-based team of author Stewart
and illustrator Riddell. It's interesting to see more than one current series of
kids' books giving equal credit to a writer and an artist for creating a fantasy
world together; the hottest American example is the Spiderwick series. Impossible as
it may seem, The Edge is even more creatively far-out.
The Edge, as the identical introduction to all three books of this trilogy points
out, is the type of place where one really could fall off the end of the world.
Descending from the dense, dark highlands of the Deepwoods to the hypnotic Twilight
Woods, the bleak Mire, the squalid bustle of Undertown, and the floating city of
Sanctaphrax (secured to terra firma by a heavy chain), the known world finally comes
to a point at the end of the Stone Gardens, where lighter-than-air rocks slowly grow
out of the ground. The Edgwater River runs through it all, and finally plunges off
the very tip of this bizarre country into the unknown mists, where anyone who falls
off the edge might fall forever. It is a land of many mysteries and dangers,
populated by a variety of trolls, elves, goblins, gnomes, and other creatures so
strange that I haven't room to describe them. It is a fantasy world exploding with
curiosities, whimsies, and horrors, many of them with names that suggest that its
creators' favorite author might be Lewis Carroll.
Twig is a slim youngster with matted hair who looks and thinks quite differently
from the woodtrolls who raised him. The day finally comes when his "mother-mine"
admits that he isn't a woodtroll at all, but a foundling that she raised as one of
her own children. When Twig set out to visit some woodtroll relatives, he
inadvertently wanders from the path (a very un-woodtroll thing to do), and so
strikes out to make his own fortune. Along the way he meets all kinds of creatures,
some of them friendly, some deadly - from huge, shaggy, fanged banderbears that howl
to each other across lonely distances, to the man-eating blood oak and the cult of
"termagant trogs" that worship it; from the dangerously stupid gyle goblins to the
diabolically clever gloamglozer. Eventually Twig finds out where he came from and
gets the first whiff of his destiny as a great sky pirate captain . . . but not
before he must face great fears, griefs, shame, and despair.
This is a hugely promising beginning to an original fantasy series. Though it has
enough strange and wonderful flights of imagination to make your head swim, it is
firmly anchored in a story we can all recognize, a journey we are willing to join
and follow. Though Twig has his not-so-sympathetic moments, he is basically a hero
to cheer for - and, in the narrower spots, to wring one's hands over. Save yourself
some hand-wringing now and get the whole trilogy, which continues in Stormchaser and
Midnight Over Sanctaphrax.
Recommended Age: 10+
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