Well Witched by Frances Hardinge, 400 pp RL: MIDDLE GRADE

First reviewed in 2010, Well Witched remains the BEST ghost story for kids I have read. Harding is a brilliant, diverse writer and this book will give readers chills and make them think!

Well Witched is a remarkable and completely different follow- up to one of my all time favorites, Fly By Night, which Frances Hardinge published as her first novel for children in 2006. Whereas her debut is an alternate-historical fiction work set in a skewed medieval period when guilds controlled society, her new book is a supernatural thriller set in contemporary times. What seems like a typical story of three tweener kids wasting their time over the course of a summer soon turns out to be anything but. Well Witched is a haunting, haunted story of children who make a horrible mistake and find their lives overlapping with some truly sad and disturbed adults.

Ryan and Chelle, odd outsiders who are picked on at school, are taken under the wing of the slightly older Josh. He is brash, charismatic and defiant and he protects them from harassment and provides them with a sense of belonging and community. Perhaps because of this, Ryan and Chelle are willing to go along with him at times when they know they are going too far. On a day when they've secretly gone to the neighboring town of Megwhite, a place their parents have warned them to stay away from, Ryan and Chelle follow Josh as he tries to scrounge up change for their bus ride home. When his idea to round up stray shopping carts fails, he decides to pry the grating off an old well and see if he can fish out some money.

Unbeknownst to the three kids, the well is the ancestral home of a goddess of water who has been known to grant wishes. When her offerings are stolen, she demands repayment, but not with coins. Ryan, Chelle and Josh all develop supernatural powers and discover that they are now meant to grant the wishes of the people who threw the coins in the well - coins that Josh removed. Ryan, an introvert who wears glasses and likes to look at the world upside down sometimes, develops warts on his hands that sprout lashes and open like eyes, giving him extrasensory vision at times. Chelle, who is timid and colorless and generally ignored even though, or perhaps because, she prattles on endlessly, is given the ability to channel the wishers, audibly and uncontrollably, voicing their thoughts when in close range. Josh develops the ability to corrupt and eventually control electricity and his eyes, hidden by sunglasses, turn into gold coins. The three explore their new abilities and their belief that they must grant wishes, which they do almost recklessly, their schemes working out in the end, but never the way they had planned. Their first "victim" is an angry young man, Will, who wishes he had a Harley Davidson. The three manage to arrange things so that he gets one, but nothing turns out the way they had planned and Will ends up injured and in the hospital, but with a new found (thanks to Chelle) career as a magazine writer.

As they seek out wishers and figure out how to grant wishes, the three kids meet increasingly unhappy and sometimes desperate people. The most haunting aspect of the book for me is Hardinge's observation that wishes are a layered thing, like a conker or horse chestnut - a nut with a prickly green exterior hiding the shiny brown nut inside. Wishes, on the outside, represent one tangible thing, but most likely they are hiding a subconscious desire underneath and this is what the children, unknowingly and always dangerously, end up granting. As the story unfolds and Ryan seeks out the history of Megwhite and the well, he discovers disturbing things about the ancient history of the well and a more contemporary story involving three men and a stolen infant.

What amazes me most about this novel is the character development and the poetry of the writing, which comes as no surprise, having read Fly By Night, but I am jaw-droppingly thrilled to learn that Hardinge can transfer that skill to such a totally different scenario and story. There is a large cast of interesting adults in this story. Ryan's seemingly indifferent mother is consumed by her drive to write unauthorized biographies of local celebrities - one of whom, a crazy artist with anger management issues, paints their hedge pink and puts voodoo spells on their milk bottles. Ms. Gossamer is a dotty old lady with a troubling past and Carrie is a spurned young woman who literally walls herself up inside of her house with her online purchases. Ryan, Chelle and Josh are the only children in the story, which is a bit odd for a children's book, but works to make the story even more spine tingling and profound, especially since the three children emerge from their experiences physically wounded but emotionally stronger and more sure of themselves and the adults around them. This is a book that I will think of from time to time and reread often. The images, people and plot are sticking with me, like a good movie. And, like Harry Potter and many other great books, I think this book can be read on a few different levels. Younger readers will read for the plot, older readers will pick up on the emotional subtleties as well as the plot. And anyone who likes a good ghost story and/or mystery will love it. And anyone who loves well written words and beautifully crafted imagery will treasure it.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge: Book Cover
Look for a new book from Hardinge sometime late in 2009. Gullstruck Island will be published in England in January of 2009. Hardinge gives a brief description of it in the extras included in the paperback edition of Fly By Night.

THIS JUST IN!!!! Gullstruck Island has FINALLY been published in the States under the title, The Lost Colony. I have to say, the cover art looks pretty cool! I'll be bumping this to the top of my TBR pile...

Scepter of the Ancients, Skulduggery Pleasant Series, Book 1, by Derek Landy, illustrations by Tom Percival, 416 pp, RL 4

First reviewed 11/20/09, this standout series features one of the most awesome girl protagonists I've encountered in middle grade fantasy. Stephanie/Valkyrie is smart, brave funny and not afraid to get beat up, which happens from time to time as she fights evil alongside Skulduggery Pleasant, the coolest, skeleton detective out there! A trilogy in the US, this series is actually an 8 book series in the UK, where it was first published. 

The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy, illustrations by Tom Percival, despite the fact that it is currently only three books long, has had three different cover designs as well as a title change since book one, Scepter of the Ancients (the new title of the first book in the series) was published in 2007. Since I often judge a book by it's cover, this phenomenon caught my eye right away. The above covers are my favorite - the girl in the illustration, Stephanie, is one of the main characters and also one of the coolest girls in young adult fantasy fiction to come along in a while. The cover to the left is my second favorite, since it still gives you a little taste for the character of Skulduggery Pleasant, the coolest skeleton detective to hit the pages, ever. The covers at the bottom of the review are the newest incarnations of the books. And, while they are attractive, I'm not sure that they fully convey all the wonderful, creative details that make up the books. But how many covers really do that anyway?

While this series has equal gender appeal, what I love most about it is the character of Dublin resident, Stephanie Edgely, who is twelve when the series begins. For me, Stephenie and this series of books is most readily calls to mind to Eoin Colfer's phenomenal Artemis Fowl series. Whereas Colfer's main characters, aside from Fowl and his family, are mythical creatures who possess certain degrees of magical powers but rely heavily on technological spy gear and weaponry to battle evil forces, Landy's main characters are humans who have learned the craft of magic (and been adversely affected by it in some cases) and posses the skills to imbue everyday objects (cars, clothing, mirrors) with it in their constant efforts to fight the evil forces that continually want to exert their power over the human race. Stephanie, although she is not a child genius like Artemis, is a very savvy girl who yearns for a break in her quiet, middle class, only child life. She gets this break when her Uncle Gordon, her father's brother, dies unexpectedly. Gordon Edgely was a world famous, best selling author of adult horror novels, someone along the lines of a Stephen King, I imagine. As a young man, his interests and friends took him away from his more staid brothers, Desmond and Fergus, resulting in a family that was not especially close knit, although certainly not estranged. Stephanie, however, loved her Uncle very much and spent quite a bit of time with him at his estate, nearby her home in Haggard, Ireland. Always a bit precocious, Stephanie has read all of her Uncle's books and enjoyed them. At the reading of Gordon's will, she is shocked to learn that, upon her eighteenth birthday, she will inherit most of his estate and wealth. Shortly thereafter, she is surprised, but not shocked, to learn that most of the events and creatures Gordon wrote about in his books are real, that magic exists and that Gordon hovered on the edge of a group of magicians who battled to keep order in the world.

While the battle of good versus evil in the world of fantasy is a well worn theme, Derek Landy brings many clever twists to his characters and their magical attributes. First, Landy is brilliant when it comes to character names. As Stephanie learns in Book 1, Scepter of the Ancients, everyone "has three names: the name they are born with, the name they are given and the name they take. The name they are born with, their true name, lies buried deep in their subconscious. The name they are given, usually by their parents, is the only name most people will ever know. But this name can be used against them, so sorcerers must take a third name to protect themselves." By the middle of Book 1, Stephanie has chosen her name and, when Book 2, Playing with Fire, begins, she is referred to by this name almost exclusively. Some of the great names from this series that occasionally had me pulling out my dictionary are Skulduggery Pleasant, of course, China Sorrows, Ghastly Bespoke, Sagacious Tome, Serpine Nefarian, Vaurien Scapegrace, Billy Ray Sanguine, the mysterious Mr Bliss, I could go on and on.

As for magic, Derek Landy's characters can really cook up some creepy stuff. The magicians' Sanctuary, which is secretly (brilliantly) housed in the Dublin Waxworks Museum, is guarded by Cleavers who, with their grey helmets that hide their faces are, "security guards, enforcers, and army rolled into one." The bad guy in book one, Serpine, who already has an army of Hollow Men, papery, human-like fighting guards, manages to create a White Cleaver, even deadlier and harder to stop than the originals. There is also the underground cavern that is full of tentacle laden, beastly menaces which is where the Scepter of the Ancients, the seat of the power wielded by the Faceless Ones, the first and most powerful magicians, is hidden. China Sorrows, an enchantingly beautiful woman, runs a very useful library full of magical tomes she has collected. And, finally, there is the manner in which the characters perform magic themselves. As Stephanie begins to learn basic magic, much of which requires power of the mind, Landy does a wonderful job describing this process. When Stephanie attempts to levitate up to her second floor window upon returning home, Landy writes, "She took her time, felt the calmness flow through her. She flexed her fingers, feeling the air touch her skin, feeling the fault lines between the spaces. She felt how they connected, and recognized how each would affect the other once the right amount of pressure was applied... She splayed her hands beneath her, and the air rippled and she shot upward, just managing to grab the windowsill." Upon arriving in her room, Stephanie encounters the other super-cool bit of magic Landy has conjured up - the reflection. After casting a spell on Stephanie's full length bedroom mirror, the image becomes her "reflection," a surface copy of Stephanie that, when invited to do so, steps out of the mirror and lives Stephanie's life for her while she runs around town fighting villains with Skulduggery. Her reflection goes to school, has dinner with her parents but has no thoughts or feelings of her own. When the real Stephanie comes home and encounters her reflection, all of the events of the reflection's day come flooding back into her. Imagine if we could all have reflections, how much we could get done....

Despite the cover changes and a much higher level of physical action (read: fights) than I am used to in a novel, I could not put these books down and, now that I have finished them, I find myself thinking about characters and passages from the stories often. Since I began my blog, I rarely read more than the first book in a series, and that was my intention with the Skulduggery Pleasant books, but I ended up reading them all. I have to admit, I am a naive and hopeful reader when it comes to books, kid's books especially. I want every book I read (for review) to leave the reader feeling warm, fuzzy and cheerful about being part of the human race. I also want the book to be well written and profound. This attitude probably accounts for my gradual, unconscious decision to stop reading adult fiction. Well written adult books tend to focus on the ways in which we screw up our lives more than the ways in which we make them better. While I wish I could say that the Skulduggery Pleasant books meet my unsophisticated ideals and are literature on the level of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, I can't. However, after much thought I realized that these books, all books, don't have to meet my high minded ideals to be worthwhile, readable and, above all, enjoyable - which is exactly what the Skulduggery Pleasant books are. Derek Landy's writing is highly entertaining and not without serious content and value. While he doesn't tackle philosophical and theistic issues the way Pullman's books do, he doesn't have to. Landy has created complex characters with faults, values and goals - despite their lack of musculature and epidermis, in some cases...

Other cover art that has graced this series...


The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity written by Mac Barnett, illustrations by Adam Rex, 179pp RL 4

First reviewed in 2009, Mac Barnett's fantastic quartet of Brixton Brothers books is an uncommon contemporary mystery that boys and girls will love. Steve Brixton, a fan of a Hardy Boys-type mystery series, The Bailey Brothers, finds himself embroiled in one case after another, turning to his literary heroes for help, often finding himself in deeper trouble... 

The Ghostwriter Secret (Brixton Brothers Series #2) by Mac Barnett: Book CoverIt Happened on a Train (Brixton Brothers Series #3) by Mac Barnett: Book CoverDanger Goes Berserk (Brixton Brothers Series #4)

I'm sorry. I am apologizing in advance for the length of this review. If you want to know about The Brixton Brother's and the Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity, scroll down a paragraph or so. Otherwise, stick around to find out everything I learned about Mac Barnett: Writer and Strongman for Hire, this new children's book author who has burst onto the kidlit scene with two picture books and a chapter book all in one year, in addition to the other amazing things he is doing. Basically, this is my review of Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday (in which I crammed in all sorts of related information into the book review) all over again. And, interestingly enough, all three of Mac's books out this year are illustrated by Adam Rex! But, before I say anything about the books, I would like to mention two really remarkable things going on in the world of kids, books and adults who are working to make the world a better place for both. Mac Barnett is the former Executive Director and current member of the Advisory Board of 826LA, a non-profit writing and tutoring center which is part of 826 National, the umbrella organization for the seven centers around the United States. Started by Dave Eggers in 2002, along with veteran teacher Ninive Calegeri, in San Francisco. The flagship location, 826 Valencia, has over 1,400 volunteers and served 6,370 students in 2008/09. For more information about this amazing organization and the people and passions behind it, as well as how to contribute your time or money, please read my post 826 National. In addition to his work with 826LA (housed behind a storefront advertising itself the Echo Park Time Travel Mart and boasting the tagline, "Whenever you are, we're already then,") Mac Barnett is also one of the one of the Guys With Books, a touring group of children's book lumiaries like Jon Scieszka, Children's Book Ambassador from 2008 to 2010, David Shannon and Adam Rex. These fellas recently spent a few weeks touring the country, visiting schools and bookstores and thoroughly entertaining the kids, and adults, based on video clips on the site, in attendance. I can't remember the last time I heard about authors and illustrators getting together to spread the good word about books and reading like these guys are doing.

For a brief review of Mac Barnett and Adam Rex's two picture books, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem and Guess Again!, scroll to the bottom of this review, because now it's time to move on to The Brixton Brothers! So, a few things went through my mind when I first caught wind of The Brixton Brother's and the Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity back in June of 2009. This could be another Whales on Stilts, MT Anderson's absurdist mash-up of Nancy Drew, Tom Swift and Goosebumps. Or, this could be another walk down Lemony Snicket Lane. The raving author quotes on the jacket from Jeff Kinney, Jon Scieszka, Dave Eggers, an author of books for adults who is kind of dipping his toe into the waters of children's literature with his novelization of the screenplay he cowrote with Spike Jonez for his movie Where the Wild Things Are, drew my attention to the admirable attempt to hook a few reluctant readers who might also be boys. After setting aside my preconceived notions, my general personal difficulties with mystery/suspense novels (see my review of Margaret Peterson Haddix's book on in her new The Missing series, Found) and my intense dislike of teen detective Nancy Drew, (despite having been a fan as a kid) based on re-reading The Mystery at Lilac Inn in as an adult, I cracked the book.  And then I couldn't put it down.

For a really great review as well as some insight from an actual librarian who may or may not be part of the elite team of secret agent librarians mentioned in the book, check out what Betsy Bird over at fuse#8 has to say, including comments on the way Barnett has skillfully "managed to capture the feel of the old time boys’ adventure novel but has done so without sacrificing our modern logic and sensibilities." With the many genres and styles that seem to jump out from this book at first glance, Barnett juggles all of them while at the same time delivering a solid, compelling mystery to be solved. As Bird writes, "Barnett walks the line well." So what line is this, exactly? I'm actually not even completely sure that it bears mentioning. As an adult, I found The Brixton Brother's and the Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity laugh out loud funny, however there is also some subtle humor that a younger reader might not pick up on, just like in the Series of Unfortunate Events books. But, wether the reader gets all the references and jokes, whether the reader has ever read a single Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown book, at the bottom of it all, this is just a darned good mystery that plays out in a relatively believable way - with only a little of the willing suspension of disbelief required for almost all books with a kid detective required.

Which brings me to my first favorite thing about this book: Steve Brixton. The twelve year old hero of our story is a huge fan of Shawn and Kevin, The Bailey Brothers (read: Hardy Boys,) has read all of their books and owns a copy of The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook which he keeps hidden under his mattress in a hollowed out copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. He is also in possession of his very own Bailey Brothers Genuine Detective's Investigation License, purchased the year before for $1.95 and twelve box tops. When Steve accidentally hands over this card instead of his library card while trying to check out An Illustrated History of American Quilting by JJ Beckely to use for a school report, he unknowingly sets off an alarm as well as a string of events that leads all adults involved (except for Rick, his mom's boyfriend, an obnoxious, egotistical cop) to assume that Steve really is a detective, thus taking him for a serious threat to their evil machinations. Above all else, I think that this is a truly genuine and unique plot device invented by Barnett. In addition to being funny, it allows the mystery to unfold in a pretty realistic, reasonable manner. Steve's devotion to the Bailey Brothers and their craft is also realistically incorporated in to the plot, as Steve is frequently given the chance to take their advice when he finds himself in dangerous situations. Unfortunately and humorously, most of what they suggest is so outdated and ridiculous that it does not help Steve one bit. The other brilliantly funny conceit employed here is the role of the librarians who are, "the most elite, best trained secret force in the United States of America. Probably the world... Every librarian is a highly trained agent. An expert in intelligence, counterintelligence, Boolean searching, and hand-to- hand combat." This twist makes for one of the funniest scenes in a book I have ever read, which, thankfully, is also one of the many black and white illustrations with a retro feel, superbly executed by Adam Rex. As the caption reads, (all the illustrations have captions - another great touch) "The bookmobile steamed and roared in deadly pursuit," and shows Steve being chased down by a big, whimsically painted bus that is being driven by a determined librarian/secret agent.

I could go on and on, regaling you with details from this book, but I'll leave the pleasure of discovery to you and your young readers. I will, however, share one last bit from the book and a story about the kernel from which it sprang. While tracking down a clue, Steve follows a lead to the dockside bar, the Red Herring. Steve follows some more advice from the Bailey Brothers and dons a disguise and adopts the "colorful slang criminals use to communicate." The caption for this illustration reads, "Yes! Steve thought. I look more like a sailor than anyone in this place!" I think that the beauty of this book is that Steve is a real kid and acts like one and thinks like one. He naively takes to heart what he reads in books and he goes out into the world following the example of fictional heroes, trying to act like them and get things done. The humor (and suspense) in the book comes from the adults who, despite the absurdity, take him seriously. Isn't that what every kid wants, to be taken seriously? Now, for the story. I recently learned that, during a discussion with Mac Barnett's friend (and literary agent) Steven Malk (who, as a crazy aside, is the son of the owners of a really fabulous - long shuttered - children's bookstore that I used to visit as often as possible) in which the two were bemoaning the lack of good mysteries for kids, they also shared their mutual love of Ellen Raskin's Newbery winner The Westing Game, a book that made a deep impression on me as a kid (and adult) as well. From this conversation grew the first in what I hope is a series of brilliant mysteries for young readers (also filling in the always empty space on the shelves where good books written at a third grade level would sit if there were enough to fill a whole shelf...)

My one regret is that I have not found a kid who has read this book so I can't get the opinions and insights that matter most. However, as I said at the beginning of this review, I really believe that Barnett is such a skilled writer that, whether kids get the jokes, the word play or the pokes at the Hardy Boys, they will connect with and appreciate the character of Steve and the mystery that he stumbles into. There is soon to be an interactive website of mystery to go with this book. You can check out The Brixton Brothers Detective Agency is now up and running and has some cool printouts and extra information about the books.


Now, onto those two brilliant picture books, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem and Guess Again! For a thoroughly entertaining interview with Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, as well as superb insight into their creative grey matter, don't miss their visit to the excellent website that is a love letter to kid's books and their creators, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Mac Barnett & Adam Rex reading their book Guess Again! As the caption of this picture on the Guys With Books blog reads, "Adam realized his lifelong dream of holding a chicken, and this chicken realized her lifelong dream of being held by Adam Rex."

Guess Again! is just sheer brilliance and humor on the part of Barnett and Rex, who employs a slightly different illustrative style for this book. As the title suggests, a picture and a rhyme on each page suggest the answer to the question being asked. However, the picture and the answer on the following page neither match the rhyme or make sense. I know that this absurdist sense of humor is not for everyone, but I do believe that it will appeal to almost every child between the ages of 3 and 6. My 5 year old LOVES it to pieces. I brought it home from work and read it to him. Then we read it again to my husband, my son trying his best not to blurt out the answers. As we read, my 12 year old son and 16 year old daughter wandered into the room to hear what all the laughing was about and we read the book again to them. Everyone was laughing now. I gave it a test run at story time and, when I was done one of my regulars, a four year old, ran off with the book so his dad could read it to him. I don't want to give too much of the book away, so I will let you have just a taste of Barnett's pitch perfect rhymes. I really felt like I was reading a "real" kid's book from my childhood, his rhymes are so perky and playful...

"Who's on Captain Gluebeard's shoulder"
Gold is gold. That feather's golder.
Got a guess? It's time to share it.
It's Polly! She's the pirate's...                                  MOTHER!!

I have to be completely honest. When I first read Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem when it came out in June of 2009, I was a bit underwhelmed with the story, although I was in awe of Adam Rex's illustrations, as usual. However, reading the interview at Seven Impossible Things, I learned that Barnett was interested in the consequences of having an enormous pet, unlike the classics Clifford the Big Red Dog and Danny and the Dinosaur in which the giant pets just make life more fun. Knowing this definitely deepened my appreciation of the book. Adam Rex is at his best with his painterly illustrations and there are some hilarious extras to look out for on the dust jacket.

And, in 2012, Barnett and Rex teamed up again for the very funny CHLOE AND THE LION.

And here is a look at Mac Barnett's next picture book,  Oh No!, this time working with illustrator extraordinaire Dan Santat!

And don't miss The Clock Without a Face, by a fella named Gus Twintig with artwork by Scott Telpin, Adam Rex and Anna Sheffield. Looks like it is a mystery-treasure hunt-picture book along the lines of the old book Masquerade by Kit Williams in which clues to the location of a golden rabbit pin were hidden throughout the illustrations and text in the book. This time around there will be 12 hand-made, emerald studded numbers buried across the United States. Readers must solve the mystery of the robberies at Ternky Tower in order to reveal the location of the jewels! Although all but the big, emerald 12 have been found, there is still a great, clue filled debate going on at the website for the book. Maybe you will be the one to find the prize?

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...