Wyrmeweald: Returner's Wealth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Wyrmeweald: Returner's Wealth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A gripping and violent tale of bandits and heroes, cruelty and young love in the frontier badlands.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Doubleday Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0385617338

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If you could imagine the frontier world of the Wild West transported to the Highlands of Scotland, you would have the setting for this first book in a new trilogy by the creators of the Edge Chronicles. Micah, a poor farmhand, longs to make his fortune so he can marry the wealthy Seraphita, so he sets off for the Wyrmeweald, where riches beyond your wildest dreams can be had – if you survive. It is a harsh and unforgiving land, full of dangerous dragon-like creatures called wyrmes, but Micah soon learns that when it comes to violence and deceit, it is humans he needs to fear most.

Micah meets two kinds of people to start with: the Kith, who like himself are willing to endure the rigours of the terrain and the weather in the hopes of becoming rich, and the Kin. These last are chosen as children by the great whitewyrmes to leave the human world behind and bond for life with them: together they guard the precious wyrme eggs, and kill anyone who comes too close to the mountain-top nests. Micah encounters (and is seriously injured by) Thrace, a beautiful Kin girl who is so far removed from ordinary human behaviour that she seems almost alien. She wears the cast-off skin of her wyrme, flies with him through the clouds, and has almost forgotten human speech. She is fierce, dark and unpredictable, and when Micah falls in love with her he soon learns she is a very different type of girl from the flirtatious and manipulating Seraphita.

There is a love story in these pages, and behind it another one, lived out in the past by Micah's mentor Eli and the enigmatic wyrmekin Jura. The tone of the book is often lyrical and tender, showing clearly the raw young emotions shared by Micah and Thrace, and the story shows that, even in this harsh world, generosity, loyalty and deep friendship can be found. But you must never forget that the Wyrmeweald is a cruel, frightening and bloodthirsty place, and this too is evident throughout the book. Both human and animal life is cheap here: a man may be killed for the contents of his rucksack or for his water bottle, and wyrmes of all sizes and types are slaughtered for their skin and their organs. The book is morally complex, showing how the desire to escape poverty leads people to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty, and how the pioneer spirit, so often admired, is seen very differently by those it crushes. It is worth keeping in mind that the histories are usually told by those who conquer a land, and therefore survive to remember.

The illustrations are more than an incidental decoration in this book. They are exquisitely drawn, full of movement and fine detail, and their position down the sides of pages adds immeasurably to the impact of the words. The drawings are often narrow and tall, and show the lofty mountains of the weald, with a tiny person or two, way down below the peaks, to remind us just how insignificant humans are in this untamed world. The language too is rich and lush, and frequently resorts to compound words: a cloak is described as 'crowtattered', and in the same sentence Micah, near to dying of thirst, walks on 'sweatlick feet'.

The Wyrmeweald trilogy is written for older readers than the Edge Chronicles: it contains, particularly towards the end of the book when Micah and his companions meet the keld, scenes of violence which border on horror. But it has a grandeur which transcends the petty actions of its denizens, and makes of the Wyrmeweald itself a major character in the book. You may feel repelled by some of the scenes you read here, but you will probably find it hard to resist the next book in the series.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Another excellent series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, although for younger readers, is Barnaby Grimes, a Victorian tale of a young boy who has to battle villains and wild beasts. And, like Wyrmeweald, The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks tells the story of a couple of likeable characters who find themselves on a violent and frightening quest. We've also reviewed Wyrmeweald: Bloodhoney by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell.

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Buy Wyrmeweald: Returner's Wealth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wyrmeweald: Returner's Wealth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at Amazon.com.

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