Book review

Wyrmeweald: Returner's Wealth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (2010)

Part 1 of the Wyrmeweald Trilogy

You can either live your life slogging in the fields, sweating in the heat of the dusty plains...or you can lift your eyes to the far-off horizon:

Somewhere beyond the flat featureless plains lay the mountains of the high country – a land of impossibly high crags and deep verdant valleys, of thundering waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes; a land of bitter cold winters and furnace-hot summers, of driving rain and great swirling duststorms; of precious metals and priceless gemstones. And of wyrmes.

You might think the call of adventure would be enough on its own, but Micah is in search of a fortune too, and so he sets off, finding himself alone and free but wandering the wilderness crags. And there are many ways that this can go but the most likely is that he will die of thirst or drop off the face of the rocks before he’s really got started.

But it’s the great wyrmes out there under the rolling skies who really own this other world. The great whitewyrmes have riders, soulmates, wyrmekin. They are roam the skies, strong, invincible, protecting all wyrmekind with steely ferocity. Meet Thrace and her whitewyrme Aseel. It’s unfortunate for Micah that he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She skewers him with her lance like a barbecue kebab. She doesn’t care. She has no interest in wyrmekith, the men who live out on the weald and make their livings trading in wyrmepelts and scrimshaw. So that’s Micah’s bad luck. His good luck is that he is found by Eli Halfwinter, before he bleeds to death from his chest wound.

Look, if you’re out there in the wyrmeweald it’s a struggle to survive. It’s you or the next man. You could be tempted into all kinds of bad ways, cruel, cursed and immoral. Or with the right kind of guidance you can stay true to yourself and learn to survive and even live to enjoy the life out there in the vast wyrmeweald.

Eli Halfwinter is special. He’s a good man and he is friend to the wyrmekin. He gets Micah the healing help he needs for that chest wound...and then he does a great thing. He offers to help Micah, to keep him by his side during his first difficult winter in the weald, to show him how to survive and how to judge the men he comes up against. And that’s a decision for Micah because it isn’t immediately obvious to Micah that he will be better off with Eli than with say, Solomon Tallow and his associates:

‘You could join us, if you had a mind to,’ he said. ‘ ‘S all right with you boys, ain’t it?’ he added, turning to the others, who nodded their assent. ‘The wyrmeweald’s a dangerous place for lone travellers,’ he told Micah, and his white teeth flashed, ‘as you’ve already discovered for yourself. Far better to travel with company. Trusted company...’
‘Safety in numbers,’ said Esau, nodding sagely.
‘I’m assuming you are travelling alone,’ said Solomon.
Micah frowned as he caught sight of Eli’s canteen lying in the mud next to his gourd and waterflask.
‘I...I’m not sure.’
‘Well, either you are or you ain’t,’ said Solomon, smiling broadly to his companions.

And there I think we have found the main theme of this story book...decisions, decisions...and who to trust? How do we decide who to trust? Because it isn’t immediately obvious to Thrace either, that she should join with Eli and the strange, attractive boy Micah, to hunt their common enemy across the vastness of the wyrmeweald in the teeth of the oncoming winter...

I love this world. Just because there are dragons don’t go thinking this is a fairy story. Here we have beauty and grotesqueness, wicked treachery and inspired loyalty, healing, betrayal and murder, and at the very heart of it a boy and girl who can’t seem to stay away from each other, even though they probably ought to... It all seems terribly real.

What can I read next?

It’s Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. They’ve written tons of stuff. Enough to keep you going until teatime. Your only issue is where to start. Have a look at the Edge Chronicles, There are a dozen or more but start with book one: The Curse of the Gloamglozer.

Johnathan Stroud does the same thing. He creates a whole fantastical world, fills it with teenagers, and makes it all seem terribly, horribly, unnervingly real. Horror, crime and passion. Love the Lockwood series:

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