The third and final part of Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s collaborative effort is called The Wyrm King, following on from The Nixie’s Song and A Giant Problem, part of the Beyond the Spiderwick trilogy which in turn is a sequel to the original The Spiderwick Chronicles series (why are fantasy titles so convoluted?) and which wraps up the trilogy in a satisfying, action-picked finale.
Centred on the plump eleven-year old Nick Vargas, his older brother Jules and their unwanted stepsister Laurie, the three siblings spent the better part of the last book trying to remove giants from Mr Vargas’s housing development, only to find that their successful attempt to lead the giants into the ocean has only led to more trouble. The climactic finish of the previous book was the discovery that the giants were the only things keeping an even greater danger at bay, one that is now rising up from the swamplands. (As a warning against tampering with the natural order of things, could this plot element be an ecological message that’s actually…subtle?!)
Along with the Grace siblings (Mallory, Jared and Simon, the protagonists from the previous books) Nick and his assorted team of faerie-experts try to gather all the information they can on the mysterious wyrms that are emerging from the sink-holes currently appearing across town. Like giant multi-headed eels that merge together like the mythological hydra, the creatures grow at a rapid pace and breathe out methane gas, and with the loss of Noseeum Jack (this trilogy’s version of Aunt Lucinda), the kids feel completely out of their league.
To make matters more complicated, the martial issues between Nick’s dad and Laurie’s mother have reached breaking point. Deciding to temporarily separate for the sake of their children, Nick finally gets his wish only to discover that he’s not particularly happy with the idea of Laurie leaving his life. As with the previous series, the plot of the troubled family is reflected in the faerie aspect of things as the children deal with irreversible change, working together, making the most of what they’ve got, and getting a taste of adult life in their dealings with the imminently selfish faeries.
Nick himself makes a great protagonist; like most kids his age and in his situation, he simply doesn’t know what he wants, and a general theme of decision-making and promise-keeping is sustained throughout his story. As such, the other characters are slightly more low-key this time around, as Nick takes centre stage.
The two major differences in this trilogy as opposed to the five-part original series is the change in setting and the general theme of the story. We’ve moved from the old-world charm of Maine to the mangrove swamps and beaches of Florida, the home of illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. Something is a bit lost in the transition; namely the fairytale-esque feel of the Spiderwick mansion and the surrounding meadows and forests. Although the seaside additions of mermaids, nixies and giants put the world of faerie in a more balmy atmosphere and give the series a wider scope, I have to admit that I preferred the previous setting.
Also worth noting is that the Beyond the Spiderwick trilogy is more of an action-driven story than a tale of discovery. Whereas the Grace siblings partook in a battle between good and evil in which knowledge (in the form of the Field-Guide) was power; Nick and his siblings are part of a desperate attempt to save their community from natural upheaval. It doesn’t pack quite the same impact.
But as always, The Wyrm King is a treat, packed full of maps, supplementary material, and Tony DiTerlizzi’s gorgeous illustrations. Some aspects of the plot are a bit wonky (to get the giants to the serpents, why didn’t they just use the tape recording of the nixies as they did last time? And since the faeries’ activities are on a much larger scale this time, I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly those that did not have the Sight were actually experiencing when giants and serpents rampaged across the countryside) yet The Wyrm King is ultimately a satisfying conclusion to an innovative series that harks back to the darker side of fairytales. I hope Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi have more to come.