|Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A young artist enters a world of struggling political opponents, as well as artworks themselves, in this quirky fantasy for the young market. The tone is not consistent enough, but the story ever inventive, so a fairly strong recommendation can be made to the right audience.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 592||Date: October 2007|
|Publisher: Egmont Books Ltd|
Mel is a young artist, living his simple youth away in a basic village, with a rude hut for home, and a weaver for a father. His future lies between two seeming polar opposites. On the one hand a powerful and rich benefactor, whose agent – a scary giant of a man with a scarred face and silver artificial hand – comes with news that his skills have been adjudged worthy of a free apprenticeship. On the other, a sinister witchfinder-general type, sent with the news that the drawings Mel has done so far are illegal goods.
This is a world where huge guild-type institutes pass law on what is allowed, with a simple move up any scale – the richness of one's food, the style of your clothing or housing – needing approval. These civil liberties then, or Pleasures, are heavily controlled, and it is the Pleasure of distributing art that Mel has broken. Luckily, needless to say, the benefactor can whisk him away from the brink of danger, and settle himself down to his important career.
Of course, nothing is ever as black and white as that – and never has that phrase been more apposite than here. The world Mel encounters for our sake is so strange, and full of vague twists and turns where things are not as they seem, that we spend a lot of thought wondering just who might be the goodies and who the baddies (apart from one obvious character who is unfortunately too broadly traitorous).
And those twists and turns are as nothing when Mel finds the magical skill to enter works of art, become part of the painted world, and have world-changing adventures. As he must, in this fantasy book for the 9s or 10s and older.
There's a lot of merit in the way the book was trying to bring something fresh to the format, with the painting scenario involved. It did suffer in that we could all know (from reading online or indeed the back cover) that he would soon be entering pictures a little like that Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come, but the book pretended it was a great mystery being built up to, yet I could forgive that. There was at this point still a nice level of intrigue in the benefactor's art college, and the Gormenghast-type palace constructions that rule over the world.
When the first artworks (fantasy scenes themselves, broadly – with mythical creatures and odd landscapes) are entered there is again a lovely fillup to the genre writing, but the tone is not the same. The threat is real for the characters – Mel, as well as Wren, the token lovely young girl friend, and his friend Ludo – but the world of the book is both broadened and restricted in becoming confined to the bizarrely fantastic, as opposed to the gentle, recognisable fantasy we had had so far.
To the book's credit it looks a huge 570pp, but reads pacily nothing like that, and the cliff-hangers and dramatic pauses and changes are certainly from the top drawer. I can't say I would say the book has many bad elements – I did think the way Mel is fated to pick up unnecessarily the one item what makes him of most interest to his enemies was very clunky; I did find the delay in the 'family reunion' a loss of energy, and not unique among unaddressed details; and I certainly wondered why on earth there was such a huge inconsistency in the book's own rules regarding time spent in the art world not corresponding to real life.
And by the time the invention of the painted worlds gives us the most literal use of the phrase 'rock face', and a seemingly endless fount of nonsense, I was left regretting the fact this book had not had a different writer. Namely, one Walter Moers, whose dense fantasies take in lawks knows what, with innumerable oddities and seeming asides, all controlled and allowed to come together with dramatic conclusion and artistic reason. Moreso, when you consider that Mike Wilks is such an esteemed producer of art books himself, there was also a great loss that a Moers volume would have redressed. For the latter, who I would unreservedly recommend to the teen and older audience, is equally a fine draughtsman, and his dense fantasies are broadened and lightened by many of his own individualistic drawings. Here Wilks can talk a good picture, but my lips, licking as they were metaphorically over a British Moers equivalent, were left dry with the lack of any pictorial accompaniment.
Beyond that the book was more than acceptable, and with the simple characterisation Mel and his cohorts are all very entertaining. The descriptions are above the basic level of many books of this one's ilk, but perhaps could have filled the pages with a bit more art of the literary kind. I just found the book a little disappointing for going off the rails towards the wacky, and my connection to the people involved, and their requisite quests and needs, diffusing into an impressionistic mush.
The result then, while sprightly, was not quite charming enough for me. The flaws in energy levels over such a lengthy book, where the author will of course find it harder to control the pace, pitch and number of breaks the young audience needs, are minor, really, considering what they could have been. And of course the depths to which the fantasy is taken will be a matter of taste – this could well find a niche market with those for whom the fantastical is never enough.
For the younger siblings of this book's audience, art also comes to life in the series begun with Monster Makers. For the teens and fantasy readers, if you haven't guessed, there is always Moers. In the middle ground is this item, of course, and while it has flaws, I can still recommend the book as a good value for money read, if never an out-and-out grand masterpiece, and I think the sequel, due the twelfth of never, should be worth looking out for.
Before then I would like to thank Egmont for sending a review copy to the Bookbag.
You can read more book reviews or buy Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks at Amazon.com.
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