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Underground, Overground, Waffling Free . . .
on 2 June 2016
This book was written the year I was born, 1960, and having read it and loved it as a teenager, I thought I would review it now, via the unabridged audiobook version. Is that fair? Not sure really, because my conclusion is only 3 stars now. There seem to be 2 big issues with this "fantasy" genre: firstly, it seems to be immune from proper editing (Tolkein, Rowling and definitely Garner just write far too much, far too unevenly), and secondly, authors make a choice of writing "pure" fantasy (Tolkein), or (as in this case) fantasy that touches the real world (Garner, Rowling, Lewis). My preference is definitely the fantasy/real world combination, so that is a big plus for Weirdstone - in fact the Alderley Legend and the real locations and imagined 'real' people (especially Gowther) are the big strengths of the book. Where TWOB really falls down, though, is with the editing issue. The book is just FAR too long, rambling and unbalanced. Essentially, after the initial scene-setting, assembling of characters and inciting incident (the disappearance of the "Weirdstone"), this is really just two incredibly drawn-out descriptions of two incredibly drawn-out journeys, one underground, and one over-ground. And boy, does the author waffle freely on each journey . . . in fact the second journey is a completely ludicrous plot device to spin out the tension - in their quest to return the Weirdstone to a certain place by a certain time, Colin, Susan, Gowther and two dwarves (whose spelling escapes my memory) opt not to travel by bus, train or car, but decide instead for the much safer option of going cross-country on foot through the night! This sojourn is so drawn out that by the time it ends and they are confronted by their arch enemy, I'd completely forgotten his name and where he fitted into the story! My other criticism, is that for a story that relies on its connection to the real world for its contrast and impact, our two main protagonists, Colin and Susan are as incredibly under-developed character-wise, as their names suggest. What do they look like? How old are they? What are they thinking about? No idea. They are as bland as their names suggest. Weirdly disappointing, despite Philip Madoc's excellent narration.