CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 18 . . . .May 13, 2005
Lars, a folklore scholar, would have identified the creature immediately as a Green Man of English legend, but Ben Larsson lacks his father's knowledge and puzzles over his encounter. Grieving the loss of his mother, burning with rage, and resenting the guardianship of a father he barely knows who dragged him to England and deposited him in a strange school, Ben nurtures his anger and takes it out on Lars. Lars hopes spending this sabbatical in England will "give us time to get to know each other away from our normal lives." "This trip, away from places with memories, will give us time to establish some sort of relationship." Ben wants things to be the way they were, yet realizes that cannot happen. "All it would take to make him happy was to have back his old life, an imperfect life, for sure, but a life that had certainty."
Not only are the new school and students strange, but bizarre events start happening: a younger boy launches an unprovoked attack on Ben; the tree Ben tangles with leaves a scratch "as if someone had carved the letter W;" weird, red-headed Yvonne stalks him, begs him to help her, and later collapses into a coma; "a crudely made figure of twigs and leaves," a fetch, appears on the doorstep; and Ben senses a presence in the woods. "There was something out there. . . something looking in at him, even though he could not see it. Something that wanted, no, it needed him."
Ben finally meets Wyliff, the leaf-and-vine cloaked Green Man, "the "embodiment of the natural world" and realizes that "something was wrong with that world. It was more than the encroachment of buildings whittling away the woods and open spaces. The balance was fundamentally threatened." Ben is both intrigued and appalled when Wyliff explains that he needs Ben's anger. "You have the anger, the fierceness, the old blood." "An anger that burns. An anger that hurts. An anger that gives power. An anger that is cherished. An anger that wants to save." The faerie king's son, Jazriel, has usurped the throne, enthralled human youth from whom he draws power, and plans to upset the balance between worlds by mating with a human, Yvonne, who "will beget the future." Wyliff believes that child would be destructive and evil, "unseelie [malignant] with the savagery of the humans." Gradually Ben, both fascinated and repelled by Wyliff's demands, becomes embroiled in the faerie conflict because he feels guilty about his failure to help Yvonne. "He knows "that Wyliff [is] manipulating him," but he thinks he "could do something to make things better."
The disorder in Wyliff's world is reflected in Ben's world. Students at school disappear, no one remembers Yvonne, violent storms erupt, trees are uprooted as nature goes wild. Blandly advising Ben to "look inward," Wyliff transfers his powers to Ben and sends him into battle with Jazriel who holds Yvonne. In the normal world, Lars, worried by Ben's behaviour, follows, fortuitously blunders into the melee, and deflects Jazriel's power. Seeing his father threatened, Ben musters the strength to defeat Jazriel, free the captives, and release Yvonne. According to Wyliff, "Seelie [benign] is seelie again . . . and balance is restored." Ben's encounters with Wyliff's world alter his perceptions of his own world, and he agrees, without argument or angry outburst, to Lars' proposal that they leave and visit his grandfather in Iceland. "Mundane, that's how everything had felt in England—except for the feeling that he had achieved something by freeing Yvonne."
This coming of age novel uses the convention of linking the supernatural world with the natural world to portray the conflicts facing the protagonist. Chan meticulously crafts Wyliff's world and depicts a faerie world that is dark, distorted, and jarring to the eye. Wyliff's point of view is revealed in italicized sections arranged within the text. Chan juxtaposes Ben's day-to-day experiences in his world with his otherworldly adventures and, less successfully, attempts to parallel the conflicts between fathers and sons in the two worlds. Well-paced prose, graphic description, realistic dialogue with the occasional profanity, action-packed scenes, a credible protagonist, and imaginatively-crafted secondary characters combine to present a readable and entertaining tale for young fans of fantasy.
Darleen Golke is a librarian "between assignments" living in Abbotsford, BC.
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