I will admit that I find myself attracted to young adult fantasy, or fantastic, fiction series. I am not sure why this is – perhaps it is a misguided attempt to recapture the excitement and innocence of my youth – but there it is. I particularly enjoy reading these type of works when I get bogged down and can’t seem to decide what to read.
I stumbled upon one such series while browsing the children’s book section at Barnes and Noble. The Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (published by David Fickling Books and Random House) caught my eye for a number of reasons. It is well designed and nicely illustrated; has reoccurring characters; and involves a unique and complex alternate world to explore. I initially bought them for my friends kids, but soon found myself reading them.
I read the first two books in the series, Beyond the Deepwoods and Stormchaser, last year and have recently been catching up with the rest of the series. Rather than post individual reviews I thought I would just cover the series so far in one post. So, if you are interested in creative young adult fantasy fiction keep reading.
I wont go into a detailed description of the world, the characters, or the basic plot lines of the books. If you want the basics you can get all of that at the website. Instead let me offer a few thoughts on what I like about the series.
As I mentioned above, one of the attractive features of the series is the packaging and illustrations. There is something fun and enjoyable about the design of the series. I have mentioned before that I am a sucker for good design. The hardback books have the look of an old leather tome and have handsome illustrations on the cover. They have a nice balance of a uniform series with slight differences in color and a unique cover illustration.
But beyond the packaging the illustrations inside really are terrific. Again, clicking around the website you can see the excellent illustrations of the imaginative creatures and settings. Stewart (main author) and Riddell (illustrator) work collaboratively in creating the creatures and the world they inhabit. The resulting illustrations give the series the feel of a classic children’s adventure series with pen and ink drawings. The illustrations pull the reader in and bring the fanciful world to life.
The other attractive thing about this series is how it builds a sort of mythology and history of the world as the series progresses. The first book in the series, Beyond the Deepwoods, introduced the reader to one of the central characters – the boy Twig – and to the fascinating creatures and settings that inhabit the Edge. Read by itself if was a light adventure story with a plot told a thousand times before: orphaned boy strikes out on his own in order to find his identity and along the way finds adventure, danger, and eventually his secret past. But as the series continues Stewart and Riddell fill in the details of the world and its inhabitants. Yes, each book is still an adventure story, but they also give the reader a fuller picture of this alternate world. I expect that this is what makes them so much fun for kids. There is enough touch-points to make the stories comfortable but enough new information and characters to make them exciting.
The stories aren’t strictly linear either. The first three books follow the lead character Twig from his intial adventure in the Deepwoods through his search for the magical stormphrax with his real father and his subsequent flight out into the void of open sky where the entire crew is scattered across the Edge. But the Curse of the Gloamgozer goes back in time to explore the story of Twig’s father and mother. The next three books in the series (The Last Sky Pirate, and the yet to be released in the states Vox and Freeglader) focus on the Rook Barkwater character and take place fifty years after the end of Midnight Over Sanctaphrax.
So while the books, aimed at ages 9-12, aren’t particularly deep they sort of grow on you. The way Stewart and Riddle have set up this world there is an almost endless supply of possible stories and adventures. The style is fanciful and fantastic so you wouldn’t really say they are realistic or believable, but once you accept the alternate world they have created, the stories work. Because Stewart and Riddell only give you glimpses into the history and development of the Edge there is a sense of mystery; a sense that much more could be told than is being revealed. This is what gives the series its suspenseful pull.
I can see why these type of young adult books are being written and produced (Harry Potter of course, but also the Spiderwick Chronicles, Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, etc. as they are things I would have devoured myself at that age. Heck, who am I kidding I am reading them at my age!
So if you like this sort of thing, or have children who are avid readers, I would check out The Edge Chronicles.