Back in the early 1980s, I read Horwood’s bestselling animal fantasy about moles – Duncton Wood. I remember enjoying it immensely, but never read the sequels, and I can’t remember what it was really about apart from religion and war in mole-dom.
But it was remembering the enjoyment of the former that attracted me to Horwood’s new fantasy epic – Hyddenworld. This will be a quartet of novels named for the seasons, being published over the next couple of years. Spring was on the Amazon Vine review list and I requested an ARC. When it arrived I was very pleasantly surprised to receive a signed numbered copy – but did the book live up to the initial promise?
I found it to be an interesting hybrid – on one hand a contemporary urban fairy tale, and on the other a dark ages fantasy. Let me explain …
Humankind has long co-habited with the little folk – the Hydden; however with the advent of technology, humans have almost all lost the ability to see the Hydden in the normal world. At the start of the saga, we learn about an ancient prophecy of the CraftLord involving a giant-born Hydden who must live amongst humans until ready to take his rightful place as leader of the Hydden of Englalond. Imbolc, the aged Peace-weaver, rider of the White Horse, must see that he survives and also finds her successor – this is his wyrd, (an Anglo-Saxon word for fate or destiny).
Jack is that child born of German Hydden folk, and shipped to England to find a foster family to bring him up. The Foales, a childless couple who live near the Uffington White Horse, are going to foster him, but he is involved in a car-crash on the way to them engineered by the evil Hydden – the Fyrd. He heroically rescues Katherine, the daughter of the car’s driver, but at great cost to himself – being badly burned. Thought not to have survived, he was then able to grow up without the Hydden’s attentions. However, when he and Katherine, for their destinies are forever linked, come of age, the Hydden come to get him to bring him to their big city Brum (Birmingham), and thus begin his adventures in that inbetween world.
Photo credit BBC
Having stood on the Ridgeway above the amazingly beautiful and ancient white horse at Uffington, (it dates from around 1000BC), you really do feel part of the Earth. It’s 110m long, and can only be truly appreciated from the air, so how they made it I do not know. The view from the top of the hill is astounding and you can see for miles and miles and miles. One spring day, we were up there, and you could see half a dozen separate showers over the towns and villages looking northwards.
The first part of this book is anchored in this area of the country around the rolling hills and ancient sites and henges – which are the portals into the Hyddenworld, and it is implied that the White Horse is Imbolc’s steed. There is Earth-magic aplenty waiting patiently to be activated, and when it does, Jack and Katherine are thrust into a very different world. I particularly enjoyed these settings and the landscapes evoked.
Katherine is captured by the Fyrd and taken to Brum; the Fyrd know that Jack will follow, but they don’t reckon on the skills of the Hydden band who help him. The Hydden themselves, although they live in harmony with the Earth, are happy to use human artifacts to help them. The wonderfully inventive Bedwyn Stort has shoes with soles made from old car tyres; and the band frequently jump trains to get around. Reduce, reuse, recycle as they say …
The fire crackled and so did the surface of the venison.
‘Smells good,’ he said.
‘Roadkill,’ she murmured by way of explanation.
It was things like this that endeared me to the Hydden, and gave a contemporary urban twist to their green faery-ness. When we get to meet more Hydden types, it becomes clear that this is a race with issues that often mirror our own; for instance in Brum, there are the Bilgesnipe – brown-skinned Hydden that are skilled waterfolk and keep the canals and sewers from flooding Brum, but are looked down upon almost as slaves by the Fyrd, who are gradually taking over governance of the great city and want to oust the toff Lord Festoon.
I liked the good Hydden very much, even though I couldn’t help thinking of them as hobbit-like, with Imbolc as a female Gandalf who appears at critical times to help things along. They were well-characterised, interesting folk; compared with them, Jack and Katherine were underwritten, but I hope will come into their own in the subsequent books. Just topping 500 pages, there was quite a lot of explanation which, while necessary to an extent, did slow down the pace considerably in the early stages. Despite the length, it was a quick and enjoyable read, and would certainly be suitable for young adults. I find myself actually looking forward to the next installments with anticipation. (7.5/10, ARC supplied by the Amazon Vine programme).