The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell, 275 pp, RL 4

First reviewed in 2010, The Edge Chronicles still occupy a large part of my imagination and that of my kids'. Stewart and Riddell are the perfect pair, the story and illustrations magnificently matched. The world they create is richly detailed, the characters complex and memorable, the adventures breathtaking. A MUST read for all lovers of fantasy.

As I was reading Tony DiTerlizzi's newest venture, The Search for WondLa I couldn't help but think of The Edge Chronicles, an amazing series that I started reading to my kids in 2004 and began writing a review of a year ago today. The similarities (and differences) between DiTerlizzi's book and those of British writing and illustrating team Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell gave me that nudge I needed to sit down and tackle this gorgeously illustrated, lavishly populated series that is crammed full of amazing creatures, characters, geography and, of course, adventure.  But first, I must let you know (or remind you) that Stewart and Riddell are the creators of many other books that have been reviewed here.  They are the amazing team who brought us The Far-Flung Adventures, three books with some overlap that are sort of a kinder, gentler version of the Edge Chronicles.  The characters are every bit as quirky and unique, but without the menace and malevolence that is sometimes found in the world of the Edge.  Stewart and Riddell are also creators of the Barnaby Grimes series, now four books strong, which is a slightly magical mysteries set in the bleak underside of Victorian London.  And, don't forget that Chris Riddell, besides writing an illustrating picture books, is also the author and illustrator of the magnificent Ottoline series.  Book three, Ottoline at Sea, was just released in England and hopefully will reach our shores sooner than later...

Hopefully, by describing the world of the Edge and the creatures and humans who inhabit it, rather than detailing the plots of the books in the series, I will be able to give you an overview that will leave you with a taste for more.  And, as long as this review is, I am only going to scrape the surface of the Edge, so to speak. For a glimpse of the depth of detail in these books, creations that are both Tolkeinian in nature and evocative of Lewis Carroll's works in terms their names and strangeness, visit the many pages dedicated to this series on Wikipediea - Animals of the EdgePlants of the Edge, and Sanctaphrax, among others.  In addition to this, there is an encyclopedic site dedicated to the series, The Edge Chronicles Wiki.

Where else to begin, but at the Edge?  The geography of the Edge is important both for its fantasy elements as well as its political aspects, an interactive map of which can be viewed on the official publisher website.  At the farthest point of the Edge are the Stone Gardens.  In the world of the Edge, stones are buoyant and grow out of the ground, pushing older rocks up like adult teeth push out baby teeth.  When the rocks grow large enough they float up into the sky and are harvested to be used as Flight Rocks on Sky Pirate ships.  One of the most important jobs on the ship is that of the Stone Pilot, the crew member responsible for heating or cooling the Flight Rock, thus making it rise or fall.  Next inland is the floating city of Sanctaphrax, the seat of learning that is the home of academics who are sometimes responsible for saving  the Edge from disease and disaster with their research and knowledge, but are just as likely to participate in vicious infighting in an effort to assert the supremacy of their studies.  Sanctaphrax was founded when one of the floating stones grew to enormous size.  At its center is a Stone Comb, a maze of tunnels and rooms leading to the heart of the stone itself.  And what do they studyon Sanctaphrax?  At one point in time, there were schools devoted to Sky Scholars and Earth Scholars, but the Earth Scholars were cast out during one of the Great Purges.  Students could choose to become Knights Academic or study in one of the various schools of weather (College of Cloud, College of Rain, Academy of Wind, Institute of Ice and Snow, School of Mist, etc.)  The Knights Academic are responsible for acquiring Stormphrax, a rare crystal that is produced by the many Great Storms that pass over the Twilight Woods.  Stormphrax is an extremely volatile substance that, in daylight can cause powerful explosions and in darkness can become extremely dense and heavy enough to serve as ballast to the continually growing stone that was Sanctaphrax.  Thus, the Knights' main job is to sail the Sky ships and obtain the dangerous Stormphrax and keep Sanctaphrax from floating away.

Sanctaphrax was tethered to Undertown by a long, thick chain.  Undertown, the main city in  the Edge, evokes images of London during the Industrial Revolution.  Meant to be a refuge for those (creatures and humans) seeking freedom from slavery and the dangers of the Deepwoods, Undertown is a dark and dagerous place.  Filled with factories and foundaries, the waste from Undertown has flowed and been dumped out into the neighboring land, long called the Mire.  A polluted place, the land and those few that inhabit it are bleached white by the toxic waste.  The Mire sits between Undertown and the Twilight Woods.  As mentioned above, the Twilight Woods attracts many Great Storms which, when unleashing their bolts of lightening, create Stormphrax.  Within the Twilight Woods, the Stormphrax is not volatile because, as the name suggests, the woods are bathed in a constant, golden light, keeping the volatile crystal inactive.  The atmosphere of the Twilight Woods is so intoxicating that the poor souls who wander into the woods begin to lose their memories and wander the helplessly forever.  If they do escape the woods, they are most often insane and incapable of resuming the lives they left behind.  One particularly vivid character who still stands out in my mind is Screed Toe-Taker.  An inhabitant of the Mire, he was formerly a student of the Knights Academy dedicated to the retrieval of Stormphrax, or its byproduct, phraxdust.  Posing as a guide willing to take travelers from the Deep Woods across the Mire, Screed would kill them and retrieve the phraxdust that collected under their toenails as they passed through the Twilight Woods, thus his new name.  Gruesome, yes, but an intensely creative character with a profound backstory who appears in two books in the series, first as Screed then later, in the past, as his human self, Screedius Tollinix, student and Knight.

An adult Termagant Trog
Beyond the Twilight Forest is the Deepwoods.  A dangerous place filled with various tribes of creatures and plants, both malevolent and healing, the Deepwoods is essential to the building of Sky Pirate ships and thus a prime spot for trading.  Trees like the Copperwood, Leadwood and Ironwood (which grows one branch every twenty years) are dense and heavy enough to be used for lumber on Sky Pirate ships, among other things.  There is also an the Lufwood tree, which produces timber that gives off a lavender glow as it burns.  Being a buoyant wood, Lufwood timber must be contained in a stove when it burns or else it will shoot off like a rocket as it heats.  This quality makes it part of a Sky Pirate ritual in which, for punishment, a crew member is tied to a large piece of Lufwood that is then set on fire, causing the log to shoot off like a rocket.  This can be seen on the cover of book three in the Twig Saga, Midnight Over Sanctaphrax. The Deepwoods is also the home of the Great Shryke Slave Market, where visitors must purchase and wear a white cockade (that lasts for only three days) to protect them from being captured and sold as a slave.  One of the more interesting trees in the Deepwoods is the Bloodoak, a carnivorous tree with sharp wooden teeth that devours its prey and spits out the bones, accumulating blood in its roots.  Most notably, the sap from the Mother Bloodoak is used by the Termagant Trogs, a race of matriarchal humanoids that begin their lives looking like adorable children with pale skin and orange hair.  When the time for their "Blooding" arrives, the young female trogs drink the sap from the Mother Bloodoak and assume their adult trog forms.  If a young trog misses this coming of age ceremony she does not transform and becomes an outcast.  I can't say too much without giving away one of the great surprises in Book 1, Beyond the Deepwoods, but one of the most interesting characters in the book turns out to be a Termagant Trog who misses her coming of age ceremony.

A Banderbear

Finally, the Edgelands make up the last region of  the Edge.  Home to the Wilderness Lair, a refuge for Sky Pirates during troubled times, the Edgelands are, as described on the official website, "Where clouds descend, there lie the Edgelands, a barren wasteland of swirling mists, spirits and nightmares.  Those who lose themselves in the Edgelands face one of two possible fates:  the cliff's edge or the Twilight Woods.  The Edgelands is also the home of Gloamglozer Rock, a rock that looks like the most evil creature in the Edge.

To discuss the characters of the Edge requires a slight untangling of the structure of the series itself.  The Edge Chronicles is a 10 book series plus a book of maps and a collection of "lost"stories.  The tenth book in the series, The Immortals, was just published in the US and is available in hardcover only at this time.  The other nine books in the series are all in paperback here, although I have posted the hardcover art for the Twig Saga (the first three books in the series.)  The Edge Chronicles  were written as interconnected trilogies, each featuring a different descendant of Orlis Verginix, a sky pirate known as Wind Jackal, however the series can be read out of order of publication.  In fact, the last book in the series, The Immortals, is set 500 years in the future after the end of Book 9, Freeglader, and can be read first rather than last, giving the reader a taste for the world that is the Edge.  The first trilogy, the Twig Saga, features Beyond the Deep Woods, Stormchaser and Midnight Over Sanctaphrax.  Twig is the grandson of Orlis Verginix.  Twig's father is Quintinus Verginix, also known by his sky pirate name, Cloud Wolf, and is the son of Orlis Verginix.  The Quint Saga is the second trilogy published in the series and features the books The Curse of the Gloamglozer, The Winter Knights and Clash of the Sky Galleons.  Twig, in turn, is father to Keris, a daughter who eventually gives birth to a son, the hero of the Rook Saga, which includes the last three books published in the series, The Last of the Sky Pirates, Vox, and Freeglader.

While I feel like I have written more than anyone cares to read at this point, I do need to tell you that the human characters in these books are as amazing as any of the mythical creations cooked up by Stewart and Riddell.  They are infused with humanity, intellect, emotions and depth that is amazing when you consider the relatively short length of these books.  This is truly an epic series, smaller in scale perhaps, but on par with greats like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  Stewart and Riddell definitely create a world that you will submerse yourself in, one that will stay with you for years after.

Free Glade Lancers riding on prowlgrins

The Edge Chronicles 
trilogies shown in chronological character order 
(not publication order) paperback covers:





The ImmortalsThe Lost Barkscrolls and 
The Edge Chronicles Maps round out the series.

A few more extras...

The dynamic duo have also written Muddle Earth, which is available in paperback. Stewart and Riddell also have a blog at Weird New Worlds and have begun a new series, WyrmeWeald.

Just had to include this Lego rendition of Sanctaphrax and Undertown...


Nina said...

Thanks so much for writing this. Really appreciate all you do. Adding the series to our reading list.

Tanya said...

Thanks for reading my blog! And let me know if your kids like the series!