Awakening: A Hyddenworld novel by William Horwood. Book Review

AWAKENING: A Hyddenworld novel by William Horwood

Macmillan, h/c, £17.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

William Horwood first came to the notice of the reading public with his two Duncton Wood trilogies which were published in the wake of the success of Watership Down by Richard Adams. These were the anthropomorphised adventures of the animals that live there. Of more literary appeal were The Stonor Eagles and Scallagrigg. The Hyddenworld series explores the myth of landscape.

Awakening is the second book in this series, the first being Spring: A Hyddenworld novel. The premise is that there are two worlds overlaying one another, ours and the world of the Hydden. The Hydden are more or less what other authors refer to as fey. If you know how, you can enter their world by making the right moves around a stone circle or other henge. These people seen to live below and beside the human world with a large conurbation called Brum in the same place in their landscape as Birmingham is in ours. Although humans cannot see the Hydden races that they share the landscape with there seems to be a certain degree of interaction running the other way; in the hidden city of Bochum in north-east Germany, the Hydden occupy the abandoned mining tunnels under the Ruhr coal-fields.

The situation was set up in the first novel and although Awakening is a continuation, there is enough not to flummox the reader beginning here. The premise revolves around prophecy and the legend of the lovers Beornamund and Imbolc. When she was killed he made a gem which was broken into four, representing the seasons. He was granted immortality but the spirit of Imbolc had to earn it. As she nears the end of her duties as Peace-Weaver, keeping the Earth in balance, she must be replaced by the Shield Maiden and the four parts of the gem reunited or the Earth will tear itself apart. One part, Summer, is known to be in Bochum where the Emperor of the Hyddenworld uses it to rejuvenate himself at intervals.

Jack is one of the Hydden and has fallen in love with the human, Katherine. As Awakening begins they are travelling to Katherine’s childhood home so that she can give birth to their child. The baby is the prophesied Shield Maiden and it is soon realized that she is growing and developing at a much faster rate than normal children. From early measurements it seems that she will go from infancy to old age within a year. At the same time, Hydden Bedwyn Stort is travelling home to Brum. Caught out at night he climbs Waseley Hill but although attacked by an unnatural wave he finds the lost stone of Spring.

When he hears of this find, the Emperor of Bochum sends Witold Slew, the Master of Shadows, to Brum to steal it. The novel follows two main strands; that of Jack and Katherine’s daughter, Judith, maturing and coping with the attendant pain of too rapid growth, and of Jack and Stort’s quest to retrieve the stolen gem of Spring.

Perhaps it is a problem of coming to this series in the second book but I found it very difficult to engage with any of the characters. They move through the plot without acquiring anything that defines them and makes them interesting. Emotions tend to be stated rather than felt though adding depth would have made this a much longer book. At the same time it is difficult to get a grip on the landscape. This I found a real problem especially as I live in Birmingham and know the landmarks mentioned. Missing perhaps are the rich descriptions of otherworldly places that often accompany this kind of fantasy. Despite being told that Birmingham and Brum occupy the same landscape I found it very difficult to equate the two and would have liked more interaction or problems related to the simultaneity of the places. As a result the overall effect of this novel is one of dissatisfaction despite the fact that there are some original ideas and myth interpretations within it.