Beyond the Deep Woods: Weak start to series

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBeyond the Deep Woods Paul StewartBeyond the Deep Woods by Paul Stewart

Beyond the Deepwoods is the start to the long-running Edge Chronicles. This first book does what one would expect, introduces the world, the major characters, and the major conflicts, but it does so in such shallow fashion that one might be hard-pressed to consider reading on. I don’t know how the rest of the series goes, but I can say that the second novel, Stormchaser, improves in many ways upon the first.

Beyond the Deepwoods, aimed obviously at a younger audience, is highly episodic, following the breakneck adventures of Twig, a young boy brought up until now by a family of trolls, as he is sent out into the woods to avoid being picked up by Skypirates. As mentioned, the book moves at breakneck speed as Twig is rushed from one crisis to another, usually involving meeting up with a horrible deepwoods dweller-trolls, goblins, bloodoaks, etc. The problem is that each encounter is so brief, each creature so quickly met and dispatched or left behind that none of them ever really linger in the reader’s mind; they fare only slightly better than if they had been listed in a glossary at the back. It reminded me of nothing so much as a group of dungeons and dragons guys sitting around trying to come up with odd monsters to add to their personal monster manual. Some of the creatures are highly inventive, others somewhat dull. Their names are consistently the best part of all, wonderfully Lewis Carroll-like and just begging to be read aloud. Older readers may tire of the “cuteness” by the end, but younger kids are sure to enjoy just repeating the names out loud to themselves again and again.

The end is pretty formulaic and anti-climatic and isn’t really earned by what has come before. What saves the book somewhat are its brevity, the likability of the main character, and the occasional flashes of inventiveness that showcase the series’ potential. What saves it even more is the fact that the second book is much more focused, has much more of a sense of narrative, and delves more into Twig’s character as well as others. Though it still suffers a bit from shallow side-characters and some moments of weak plotting, it is much better written, more compelling, and finally gives the reader a real reason to continue. I wouldn’t recommend Deepwoods if it stood alone, but as the necessary entry into the better second novel, it’s a required step that won’t hurt too much. One final note, while the book will appeal on many levels to young readers, it can turn dark at times. Death does occur and much more frequently and gorily in the second book.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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