Thursday, 12 November 2015

Gloomthreaders - 1st Review

It has long been an ambition of mine to write a children's fantasy novel. So you can imagine my gumption when an old school pal got in contact to say that he had written a children's fantasy novel and would I mind reviewing it on my blog. Dammit, that was my idea, we can't both be successful children's fantasy novelists. Then I remembered that each time I try to write my children's time-travel adventure book, snappily titled: The Dial's Shady Stealth, I never get past chapter three because the paradoxes get too involved. Whereas here, I was presented with a complete 300 page manuscript. Cap doffed, good work.

People like myself who enjoy wasting time thinking about such matters, usually divide fantasy into four categories: Other World, Magic Door, Intrusion and Liminal. Stephen Rollett's Gloomthreaders: The Unlight Weke occupies the blurred space where Intrusion and Magic Door fantasies overlap. A space that lovers of mid-20th Century children's fantasy will readily associate with Alan Garner.  

The 'real' world occupied by its central character Felicia Hart is being impinged upon by dark forces that seek to control the Unlight. To do so, they must discover the whereabouts of the eponymous Weke that the heroine's father was last seen setting off in search of.

Putting the 'read' into 'Gloomthreaders'

It is an essential trope of the children's fantasy novel that the child must be orphaned as soon as possible. Essential because it feeds the prospective reader's fears (what if my parents were missing/dead?) and dreams (if only my parents weren't here, I could do what I like!). So with Mother dead in mysterious circumstances some years earlier and Father disappeared, Felicia enlists the help of her friend Hugo to search for the Weke herself.

Felicia and her erstwhile father are not the only ones looking for the mysterious Weke. The Council of Solarius are also interested in its whereabouts, but are its members quite what they seem?

I was pleased to see that the broad theme of emergent trust was deftly dealt with in Gloomthreaders. During childhood, we trust implicitly but, as we leave that family bubble and encounter the larger world, we have to learn how to tell those who would help us from those who would harm us. Adult characters in children's fantasy assist us with this lesson. Mummy and Daddy aren't here, who should you trust? Rollett has a good understanding of this. In a Dickensian (or I suppose these days, more Rowlingian) way, the names are sometimes the clue to a person's nature. A bit of fun that begs to be subverted.

One character in Gloomthreaders is fond of saying: "We know nothing - only that on which light falls." Light has long been a metaphor for knowledge. Rollett embraces this association and expands on it in certain passages. Wittgenstein springs to mind: whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. 

The novel imbues light with fantastical properties. Light can be Hard and used as a weapon. The opposite of Light is revealed not to be darkness - a mere absence. Instead we are presented with a true opposite: Unlight. This and other ideas (the fantastical creatures encountered and especially the Freeze - a mini-winter that occurs as a result of an alien planet's erratic orbit) that make up the core fantasy elements of the novel are elegantly combined with a realistic depiction of a child's moral outlook. Sometimes we do a thing because it is the right thing to do. Sometimes we act because we are frightened. Sometimes we have to act even though we wish we'd never got involved in the first place. Children's fantasy novelists who understand this (rather than getting embroiled in temporal paradoxes in chapter three) deserve acknowledgement...

...and sales, they also deserve sales. You can buy the book here.

1 comment:

  1. I concur completely. Especially the last part.