After the five-part The Spiderwick Chronicles ended with a promise that there would be more to follow in the Spiderwick world, it was only a matter of time before there was another installment in the series. Now we pick up in the first book of a proposed trilogy that features a new set of children (two step-siblings) and a different location (the mangrove swamps of Florida as opposed to the old world charm of New England), but with plenty of new faerie lore incorporated into the story. As always, writer and illustrator manage to capture the essence of old faerie-lore, in which the creatures are both beautiful and dangerous, with a set of obscure rules surrounding them that need to be followed if one wishes to keep safe.
Nick Vargas is a plump eleven-year old who is not at all happy with the inclusion of a new stepmother and stepsister into his family home — especially when his new sister Laurie is such a weirdo. Interested in mystical creatures, and carrying around a copy of Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You (Spiderwick Chronicles), Laurie is convinced that faerie creatures might inhabit the construction zone of Mangrove Hollow. She’s right, and soon the two are attempting to help a nixie named Taloa who has lost her sisters and is suffering with the development of the surrounding swamplands. The two feel themselves in over their heads, and go for help…from Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black themselves (appearing in the chapter: “In Which We Nearly Break the Forth Wall”), who are currently on their book tour, having published the story of the Grace children. You have to admire the nerve of those that put themselves into their own story, particularly when they appear as frauds!
As well as this, we have a substantial role from Jared Grace and a new threat in the faerie world — giants! DiTerlizzi refrains from showing them as large humanoids, and instead they appear more like giant nature spirits that rise from the earth. Black’s story wonderfully captures the surly temperament of any teenage boy forced to spend time with an unwelcome new addition to the family, and Laurie is a dreamy free-spirit not quite in touch with the real world (although I couldn’t help but feel that she is based a little too heavily on Luna Lovegood of the Harry Potter series). It’s nice to have a protagonist who is a little on the chubby side, who gradually comes to respect and admire the new people in his life.
As usual, the parents are entirely unsympathetic, and Nick’s father in particular comes across as a real jerk, grounding his son for a week over (what seemed to me) a minor misdemeanor, and sometimes Black’s writing can be a little awkward, such as when the siblings find Taloa’s siblings and immediately afterwards are attacked by a giant — it’s a little unclear what happens and how. Furthermore, Black would like to portray Laurie as an innocent, but with a manipulative streak — however, the times in which she tricks people into doing what she wants ring a little false. But as always, Tony DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are beautiful, capturing every nuance of the protagonists’ faces and the weird and wonderful world of the faeries, who are portrayed as dangerous and wild, without a trace of the sentimentality that obscures their true nature in other children’s books.
Complete with a map and flier of Black and DiTerlizzi’s book tour (to legitimize their story), the tale ends with a rhyme that hints toward the events of the next book — and though I’m looking forward to it, it suggests that Nick’s older brother Julian is going to be held hostage by the faeries, a kidnapping plot-twist that was prevalent throughout the first five books of the series (with nearly every member of the Grace family getting captured by the faeries at one stage or another). Hopefully Black can put a new spin on this oft-tread plot scenario…