Young Twig has lived his entire life with woodtrolls in the Deepwoods, but despite the fact that he looks nothing like them, he is astounded when the troll woman he'd always believed to be his mother tells him his true story: he was a foundling she and her husband have raised as a son. But when his height calls him to the attention of the sky pirates, who are known for abducting people to serve on their floating ships, his parents decide he must be sent away from home for his safety. He is to take the safe pathway through the Deepwoods to his cousin Snetterbark's house and live there for a while, just until the sky pirates forget about him.
Woodtrolls never stray from the path. The Deepwoods are dangerous, full of nasty creatures with sharp teeth and claws, carnivorous plants, and other nasty surprises. But Twig finds himself wandering off the path...and that's where his adventures begin. He meets up with the Slaughterers, is nearly devoured by a bloodoak, falls in with some goblins, and is held captive by termagants. Twig is never safe - how could he be, in such a dangerous place? Soon he is lost beyond hope of ever finding the way to his cousin's house - but could he perhaps find his way to where he truly belongs?
I loved Curse of the Night Wolf by Stewart and Riddell, and I positively adored Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell, so I was excited to try this series. Unfortunately I just didn't connect with the story or the characters. I prefer a hero who faces adversity and learns to solve his own problems, but Twig just bumbled from one dangerous situation into another, getting either rescued or getting away by a stroke of luck. When he is held prisoner by a termagent child, forced to wear a collar and leash, he never even tries to escape - not until his life depends upon it, anyway. I don't think Twig has really learned anything or developed in any way by the end of the novel. The resolution of his story is fairly unbelievable as well, depending as it does on a purely chance encounter to wrap things up neatly.
Young readers may not have these issues - in fact, I think the spooky setting and gruesome characters will have immense appeal to its intended audience. The illustrations are wonderful - nicely detailed depictions of events in the story that are a ghoulishly humorous accompaniment to the text. My library shelves these books in the teen section because they are rather violent - characters die in fairly horrible (but not graphically described) ways. Evidently subsequent books in the series focus on different characters and situations, but I'm thinking I may just go back to waiting for the next Barnaby Grimes book instead of continuing on with these. If anyone has read more than the first book of this series, I'd love to hear what you think!
Books in The Edge Chronicles:
1. Beyond the Deepwoods
3. Midnight over Sanctaphrax
4. The Curse of the Gloamglozer
5. The Last of the Sky Pirates
8. The Winter Knights
9. Clash of the Sky Galleons
Beyond the Deepwoods (#1 in the Edge Chronicles) by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (David Fickling Books, 1998)
Also reviewed at:
Ms. Yingling Reads: "It was nicely written, with good use of language and lots of inventive monsters, places and evil plants that could kill you, but I found Twig's story a little lacking."
Twisted Kingdom: "These books don't shy away of killing anyone as some of the creatures that inhabit these worlds can be downright cruel and you just never know who will make it to the end....of the series!"