Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
The label on this book identifies it as belonging to the Juvenile market. Does anyone other than publishers use the descriptive `juvenile’ anymore? Maybe controlling adults keen on patronising young people might employ such a noun, but not in my name. I would classify this book as a children’s story fully aware that childhood is more a spectrum than a precise statement of being.
This sort of thing sends the reviewer off on comparisons with C. S Lewis whose Narnia tales began this genre and Susan Cooper, whose `Dark is Rising’ remains a period classic. This isn’t at all that fair as `The Heroes of Elwhen’ is a story without pretensions. It is a simple, well-written tale of three children who fall into an alternative world and then heroically help to put right things which are obviously wrong. Some stronger humour would have helped the story go down better, but its dour presentation and clear moral messaging possess an instructive characteristic which may suit younger readers. This book is artisan writing; competent, unpretentious and clear.
One by one, three children arrive by accident in underground chambers lit by glistening rocks. As they seek an exit they find themselves in an unknown valley of great beauty. Here there is a bird named Chattapek that speaks in rhyme along with a talking cat called Varion who lives with the wizard, Thurlan. Not long after their arrival the children are kidnapped by troll soldiers working for the witch, Belladonna. They are taken to a castle called Grimward to be interviewed by the witch. She considers them spies from Elwhen and casts them into the dungeon. Here they meet another man similarly imprisoned who is given to singing a certain tune.
The witch agrees to let the children return home on condition that they go to Elwhen to steal the powerful Jewel of the Isles from Baldwin, the king of Elwhen. In due course the trolls leave the children on the wooded outskirts of Elwhen where they take up with the wizard, Thurlan. Gradually Thurlan persuades the children to reveal Belladonna’s plan. It becomes apparent that the man singing the tune in Belladonna’s dungeon is actually King Baldwin, who has been missing for two weeks, but whose identity must be unknown to Belladonna. The princes of Elwhen; namely Basiliscus, Borisama and Berthold debate with Thurlan the best way of obtaining the release of Baldwin. It is soon realised that any attempt to free Baldwin would inform Belladonna as to the real identity of her prisoner who was discretely wearing the Jewel of the Isles.
A plan is hatched by Thurlan for the children to take an imitation jewel to Belladonna as a distraction so that the real Jewel of the Isles can be removed from Baldwin in the dungeon and smuggled out by carrier-pigeon. Of course, the telling of the tale requires that this cunning plan goes wrong. The pigeon opts out but its role is taken by Chattapek who turns up to save the day. At first, Baldwin is reluctant to give up the Jewel but is finally convinced by an elven artefact. By this time the story is at its climax, the witch’s goblin guards are in the dungeon beating everyone up and the castle of Grimward is under attack by Thurlan. Of course, the witch is beaten but survives to fight another day. All then ends well.
This tale is no great work of literature. It breaks no new ground, but it is a wholesome yarn told as well as can be expected. If, however, you are looking for a magical `wow-factor’ then this book will disappoint.