Don Gutteridge’s novel for young readers is an anthropomorphic fable that follows a group of woodland creatures as they attempt to find their way home after being displaced by a cataclysmic flood.
Reminiscent of Richard Adams’ classic novel Watership Down and blending elements of Arthurian and biblical myth, this action-packed story is initially set in Earthwood, an idyllic realm free from the terrifying Tallwalkers and their doomsmobiles and deadly firesticks. But when a flood devastates the region, some of the surviving creatures regain consciousness to find themselves clinging to logs in a completely unfamiliar area.
A raccoon named Gavin becomes the impromptu leader of a ragtag band of animals that includes: his brothers Trisbert and Cuyler; Quiver a porcupine; Adderly, the snake; twin beavers; a jackrabbit, and Dante, a soothsaying mole. They quickly realize that the flood must’ve taken them over a towering ridge that separates Earthwood from a nightmarish place called the Forest of Everdark. Starving and close to death, Gavin must somehow lead the group back home. With remnants of Tallwalker writing to guide them, Gavin, who can barely understand the written words, attempts to gain wisdom from the mysterious texts.
Although there are some gruesome aspects to the story—stillborn babies, dying animals, mutated creatures, etc.— an undeniable innocence and sense of whimsy infuses the story. The main characters, who must overcome their fears to survive, are largely good-hearted and endearing. There are even laugh-out-loud moments, many of which include Quiver, a character that always seems to get big words wrong. For example, instead of using the word “magnanimous,” he says: “how monogamous of you…”
The only major criticism is the author’s use of overly long sentences, especially at the beginning, something young readers will have difficulty understanding. Many sentences are 70-80 words in length and some more than 100 words.
That aside, this charming adventure—which features complementary illustrations by artist A.T. Balsara—should appeal to readers of all ages.
Also available as an ebook.