In Beyond the Deepwoods, the first installment of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddel’s The Edge Chronicles, Twig goes on a quest to find himself. It’s not a traditional quest, it does not exactly follow Joseph Campbell‘s model for a hero’s journey, at least not at first–though there are some similarities here and there.
This is the beginning of what seems to be a sweeping epic of the lands at the edge of the world. However, I could feel a sense of reservation throughout the book in terms of a broader scope for the story. I found out that this is because Stewart and Riddel were not assured of a full series, so they packed in a fully realized world, which was bigger and more important than the story. I can’t fault them for that, though; they took a long shot, and they went on to write nearly a dozen books set in that world.
I appreciate the Beyond the Deepwoods a more for the world that the author/illustrator duo created, as it provided an excellent canvas on which Twig can travel further. It isn’t a blank canvas, however. They populated it with unique and intriguing creatures which come back time and again to really bring depth and reality. Because they were trying to span as much of the world as possible, the book’s structure tends toward the episodic, and somewhat formulaic. In each chapter, Twig meets a new set of creatures, gets into trouble (usually angering those creatures), and must then escape. However, he meets a few creatures who help him, and some leave a lasting impression.
There is a clear collaboration between writer and illustrator. They obviously work in tandem. While I loved Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan, the illustrations were only for accentuation; here, nearly every page is filled with pictures, vividly rendering the world in my mind. The book begins with a large, detailed map of The Edge, which also aids in establishing a sense of place.
In the end, Twig does come up against a greater evil and gets a little closer to finding himself–yet that is a journey which will continue in the next two books of Twig’s Trilogy.
I am nearly finished with book two, Stormchaser, and it is certainly fulfilling more of my expectations for this series.