The Curse of the Gloamglozer is the latest installment of “The Edge Chronicles,” a proposed 10 part series of fantasy books for young (or intermediate) readers. According to the publisher, this book (volume four in the series) begins a new “story arc” that essentially serves as a prequel to the story found in the first three books and which will play out over three volumes itself (books 4-6). While part of my wishes for the “old school” days of fantasy trilogies instead of decologies, I have to admit that some of my favorite tales of childhood, like Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pyrdain or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, stretched beyond the three book cycle (each of them took the tale to five, as memory serves).
Regardless, The Edge Chronicles offers readers more than just standard fantasy fare: it teams author Paul Stewart with illustrator Chris Riddell to create books riddled with images in an effort to help the story almost literally crawl from the page. Paul Stewart has published over twenty books, and Chris Reddell has illustrated a number of children’s books and something of a renowned political cartoonist whose work appears in England’s The Observer, The Literary Review, and The New Statesman. Together, they work closely to bring the world of “The Edge” alive.
Earlier volumes in the series have been praised by Publisher’s Weekly as having an “off-kilter sense of logic” and a vocabulary that is “equal parts Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll.” This story is similar. It teams Maris, the daughter of the Most High Academe in Sanctaphrax (the floating city that hovers above “the edge”) with Quint, the son of a sky pirate captain, as they try to decipher the danger lurking at the heart of their world. For some reason, when Maris’ father visits a secret laboratory deep beneath the surface of Sanctaphrax, he emerges weak and disoriented, and frequently seems preoccupied and distracted from his important duties as overseer of the city. As Maris and Quint struggle to decipher the mystery, they end up putting themselves – and all of Sanctaphrax – in danger.
The challenge of any fantasy writer is to create a believable alternate world and people it with interesting characters. In that regard, the illustrations in the book do an excellent job of depicting the odd, almost impossible landscape of a realm run almost exclusively by madcap wizards and scholars (hence the title “Most High Academe”). Instead of one mad scientist, Stewart envisions an entire domain of them, each operating with their own agenda. He offers the obligatory bizarre assortment of servants, henchmen, and villains, although it must be admitted that within the context of this volume the some of the plotting of various villains seemed either a touch contrived or a bit vague (an objection that will no doubt be ignored by those swept up in the oddball humor of it).
Stewart’s world reminds me a bit of say, L. Frank Baum’s cockeyed land of Oz, especially as that series unfolded, with its many mechanical men and other stray creatures. There is also something of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia in it, at least insofar as all the characters seem to be able to talk (even the ones that look rather like large spiders) and many of the adults seem a bit distracted or befuddled. But there is also a modern, gritty edge to it, and the theme – of the consequences associated with experimenting on things we don’t understand – resonates against the modern backdrop of genetic engineering, cloning, and similar research. The book may stint a bit on characterization in favor of adventure, but then again, it’s not written for somebody looking for a character study. It’s a fast-paced flight through a zany, oddball world.