‘The Waking World’ by Tom Huddlestone is a fantasy Young Adult novel that tells the story of Aran, a young boy whose father, a local Lord, wants him to run the family farm. Aran, though, dreams of adventure and believes himself to be something greater. When reports of sea-faring marauders attacking villages and taking slaves begin to creep inland, it sets in motion a change of events that will alter Aran’s life and the kingdom of the Island forever.
So far, so familiar, yet as the novel progresses more of the unique set-up is revealed. The Island is actually the United Kingdom, but one thousand years in the future, hugely flooded by rising seas. This gives the whole prospect of the mainland repelling raiders from the sea a unique twist and a good reason for the raiders to be at sea in the first place. From the opening few chapters, the book feels like Joseph Campbell by numbers, this continues throughout the book and,while it is a YA title, this may dismay more seasoned readers. For example, after Aran has inherited a magic sword from a wizard, do you think his farmstead will be still standing or raided by marauders? Anyone who’s seen ‘Star Wars’ will know the answer.
The abundance of cliché is irritating, especially since it gets in the way of some nicely drawn characters. Aran is headstrong, resilient and kind. His friend, Cas, is the thinker of the group. Mohanna, friend to both Aran and Cas, but from a neighbouring farm is strong and combative, exactly what her father doesn’t want from a daughter he’s trying to marry off. The trio are likeable and engaging. The fourth member of the group is a cantankerous old man called Peregrine, who almost certainly knows more than he lets on. Certainly a lot about the past anyway.
It’s hard to say more about ‘The Waking World’ without revealing some pretty huge plot points, other than to say it has a fast pace and easy-to-follow story that successfully conveys epic fantasy within an easily understood future Earth, unlike something more challenging than from say Gene Woolf or Jack Vance. It’s also amusing and action-packed, with plenty of swordplay to be enjoyed. Its only fault really is that it isn’t very original, despite the premise that’s latterly revealed in the book. A sequel could well be interesting if it distances itself from its source material and takes the story off in a new direction.
Overall, don’t expect to have your mind-blown, but instead enjoy a well-written story that has a neat twist and the promise of something better to come.
(pub: David Fickling Books/Random House. 434 page small hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-857-56045-2)
checkout website: www.davidflicklingbooks.co.uk