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Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood
Robin Jarvis
Harcourt, 244 pages

Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood
Robin Jarvis
Robin Jarvis began writing in 1988, quickly becoming a best-selling children's author with his Deptford Mice trilogy and the Whitby Witches. An artist, he also illustrates all his own books. Shortlisted for the Carnegie Prize and Smarties Award, he has won the Lancashire Libraries Children's Book of the Year Award twice. He lives in London, England.

Robin Jarvis Website
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A review by Martin Lewis

Robin Jarvis first came to attention with his Deptford Mice trilogy; the story of warring mice and rats and their pagan gods. Unlike other anthropomorphic animal books such as Brian Jacques's popular Redwall series, the trilogy was as enjoyable for adults as children. Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood maintains that universal appeal.

The werlings are a race of small shape-shifting creatures who live almost forgotten in a small corner of the ancient Hagwood. Gamaliel Tumpin is a young werling who has reached the age where he is to be inducted in their grand tradition of transmogrification. His first task is to master the simplest change; from werling to mouse. To do this, his group goes out into the wood to study the mice, under the guidance of Finnen Lufkin, a brilliant shape-shifter a few years older than them. To Gamaliel's shame and humiliation, he is unable to succeed at even this elemental wergle. Consoled by Finnen, he resolves to succeed on the next expedition where they must assimilate the concept of hedgehogs. Before he can do so, however, two of his group go missing and the others have to leave the world they know and search for them on the other side of the river Hagburn.

From the outset, we know that all is not well in Hagwood. The prologue sees a vixen tricked and killed by the titular ogres in the desolate scrubland that abuts the wood. Even in the bright sunlight of the section leading up to Gamaliel's second expedition, there is constant low key foreshadowing of the danger to come. Though the werling community has grown complacent and soliptic in their undisturbed little corner, they will soon be confronted by the true nature of the world they live in. The monsters we see at the beginning are simply avatars of a greater, deeper evil. Once the group cross the Hagburn, everything steps up a gear and the story becomes more complicated, more intriguing and more tragic.

In Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood, there is a strong thematic resemblance to Jarvis's earlier works. Again, it is a coming of age story set in just about the most extreme circumstances imaginable where the burden of a great responsibility rests on young shoulders. Nothing and, more importantly, no one can be taken at face value and first impressions can often be misleading. One of the most impressive things about his books is their capacity to surprise, not through cheap shocks but revelation of character.

The publishers recommend the book for ages ten and up and, whilst every parent knows their individual child best, this seems about right. It is, it should be noted, a dark book and a violent book but then all the best children's books are. Jarvis's deceptively simple prose makes the book a pleasure to read for all ages and means that he can slip in words like "pestiferous" without allowing the astonishing pace of the story to flag. The only real ornamentation is in the dialogue. Here a cod Cornish country bumpkin dialect and use of Middle English make an appearance which, though evocative, is a tad wearying.

Thorn Ogres is the first book of a trilogy and suffers the inevitable, inescapable problem of only telling a third of the story. That said, it works reasonably well as a self-contained book, leaving it to the epilogue to provide a bridge next volume. Still I imagine there will be more than a few disappointed readers waiting desperately for that book, since this one whets the appetite so tantalisingly.

Copyright © 2003 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis reviews for The Telegraph And Argus, The Alien Online and Matrix, the newsletter of the British Science Fiction Association. He lives in North London.

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