A Giant Problem: Characters have improved

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Holly Black Beyond Spiderwick 4: A Giant ProblemA Giant Problem by Holly Black

In A Giant Problem, the second book of the sequel/spin-off to the original The Spiderwick Chronicles, we meet up again with our two protagonists: stepsiblings Nick (surly and portly) and Laurie (dreamy and cunning), who are getting along reasonably well in the wake of their discoveries in the previous book The Nixie’s Song.

Having allied themselves with the half-blind and near-senile Noseeum Jack (this book’s version of wise-but-dotty Aunt Lucinda) the two are learning all they can about the awakening giants that are threatening their parents’ housing development. Jack takes them giant-hunting, in the attempt to show them how to deal with the massive and destructive nature-spirits. It does not go well.

On the whole, A Giant Problem is a good book, and a nice addition to the trilogy. As usual, the book is full of maps, newspaper clippings, cameos from previous characters, and Tony DiTerlizzi’s wonderful illustrations that have made these books so special right from the beginning. But whereas the original five-part story was all about discovery, letting us explore the world of Faerie along with Jared, Simon and Mallory, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles is more story-focused — which is not necessarily a good thing considering that Holly Black‘s writing can often be a bit choppy or contrived. Often characters will jump from one situation to another without a proper sense of time or place, and later on in the story the children attempt to steal a fish from a fish-tank under the nose of two adults that is so awkwardly staged it made me cringe.

But the characters have improved since the last book, with Nick becoming a more thoughtful and less antagonistic young man, with a rather poignant decision to make at the conclusion of the story, and Laurie undermines her own ditzy-exterior with a tendency to lie — a trait that she defends later on in a thought-provoking way. Also along for the ride is Nick’s older brother Jules and his girlfriend Cindy (not to mention a troublesome hobgoblin called Sandspur), both of whom show more maturity and respect for the younger kids than any of the parents present in this book.

Holly Black may be trying a little too hard to connect with her younger readers, specifically by making her adult characters utterly useless and unpleasant. Within the first chapter of the story, Nick’s father and stepmother are having an argument, and their behavior doesn’t improve throughout the course of the story. Nick’s father doesn’t seem to have a single nice word to say to his son, and at one stage Charlene (step-mom) says to Nick: “You can keep hating me. Just let me put a band-aid on your scrape.”

We’ve already dealt with the subject of the broken family in the previous series, and the effect it has on young people — it would have been a nice change from the dysfunctional family to have a more harmonious one, leading to a range of new difficulties in which the children feel guilty about deceiving their parents about the existence of the faerie world.

However, what with the story ending on a surprising cliff-hanger, and a few story-points left behind that will no doubt have to be cleared up, I’m on board for the next (and last) installment.


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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