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In fantasy more than any other genre, the line between writing for adults and writing for children is incredibly blurred. The only obvious differences are that in writing for younger readers, the heroes tend to be younger, there are more human-like characters and fewer names with too many apostrophes and too few vowels compared to fantasy novels aimed at adults. There are very few differences between the plotlines and the stories themselves. Having written for adults prior to this, author Thomas Wharton would know this better than I. I know nothing of his work for adults, but if it's as good as "The Shadow of Malabron", it has to be worth checking out.
Will Lightfoot, isn't happy with his life. His mother died three years ago and he is uprooted from his home to move across the country for his father's new job. It's a chance to move on, but Will wants to keep remembering his mother from where they are. So when his father refuses to stop at a roadside attraction, Will steals his father's motorbike when they stop for the night and heads back through the rain and dark to try to find it himself.
What he finds instead is not what he expected. Will crashes the motorbike and ends up in the Perilous Realm, a land not too far from ours where all our stories come from. Almost immediately, Will finds himself in danger, hunted by a man called Lotan. Before the ghosts sent by Lotan can find Will, a young girl, Rowen, discovers him and they are helped to safety by a ranger, Moth and his raven, Morrigan. Rowen's grandfather is a loremaster, someone who knows most of the stories that make up both the Perilous Realm and our world and he knows how Will may be able to return home, but it's a long journey away. They are helped along by Shade, a wolf Will rescues from the library and Finn, a Knight of the Realm.
This isn't a new idea, by any means. Generally, the first thought of anyone who ends up in a strange land is to find their way home. What makes "The Shadow of Malabron" as good as it is are the little touches that Thomas Wharton provides. The library was one of these, with the way the books are found by following a flying slip being an entertaining one. The other idea I loved was that of the werefire and the way it can affect people, especially when it landed Will in a story from his computer game, a little like in the film "eXistenZ". This link was apparent earlier on when they were caught in a story shard, which reminded me of the game loops from the film.
The mixing of stories and worlds reminded me of the way Neil Gaiman often takes fairy stories and gives them a more up to date context and in Shade's story here, I felt that link most strongly. I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's work, so any similarity there was always going to find favour with me. There were also parts that reminded me of "The Lord of the Rings", especially the part in the mountains that made me think more of the films than the books.
Perhaps the one disappointment for me in the book was that it wasn't particularly visual. Whilst characters like Shade the wolf and the hogmen are simple enough to picture, as is the werefire and Morrigan the raven, some of the others aren't quite so well drawn. Whilst my mind managed to conjure up vague images for some characters, I never really got a picture of how Will and Rowen would look, nor of the world around them, which is unusual for me.
There were enough novel touches and they were spread well throughout the story so that, despite the basic idea being a common one, there were very few parts where the basic idea was allowed to leach through between Wharton's ideas and reduce the impact of those ideas. Indeed, the only place where this predictability was obvious was towards the end, where Will was offered the choice that occurs so often in such books and there was a rather predictable joke based around Will's surname that I'd been expecting since the first page.
The book is very readable and I found that I was able to lose myself in their adventures quite easily and despite it being a little shorter than most adult fantasy books, it seemed even more so due to how quickly I was turning the pages. Despite the journey itself being quite a long and slow moving one, with them walking rather than riding, there was enough going on along the way that the book itself never felt slow paced. The new ideas overpowered the essentially basic idea to the extent that this turned into a great read and any fantasy fan, whether young or old, will find enough here to enjoy and it's a book certainly worth having a look at. In the Perilous Realm, everyone has a story and in "The Shadow of Malabron", everyone can find a story to enjoy. It's well worth a purchase at £1.18 at the Amazon Marketplace and definitely well worth borrowing if you find a copy in the library.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk