June 25, 2006
I have to admit to being a sucker, apparently, for books about humans stumbling across the world of Faerie, and Faerie being nothing like what the stories would have you believe. I really enjoyed Herbie Brennan's Faerie Wars for that reason, and Charles De Lint also goes in that direction a bit.
I was lent The Various by Steve Augarde and it sat on my shelf for a while, because it had an unfortunately vague cover blurb. I thought it was going to portray Faerie in a rather unimaginative fashion, I'm afraid. When I finally did pick it up and thumbed through the first few pages, reading about twelve-year-old Midge discovering this ragged bunch of warlike little people in a pocket of undeveloped forest on her uncle's land in the English countryside, I immediately (and fortunately) forgot all about the blurb.
This was absorbing tale of faerie folk who are, like Brennan's, much like humans in nature, but very different as far as culture and society are concerned. They're very...medieval, and not a little strange. The one tribe of the Various (as they call themselves) that is winged primarily uses them for gliding and climbing trees. While there is a touch of the magical about them--in their diminutive stature and the occasional magical object--they have mainly gotten to a point of needing to live off the land, as farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters, in this small, isolated remaining pocket of forest where humans haven't yet developed the land. And if Midge's uncle decides to sell it, they would have nowhere to go. Would they need to make themselves known to humans? Would they have to try to make it to another isolated forest, if they could find one?
Midge, while visiting her uncle, discovers the existence of the Various, but this knowledge comes as a bit of a burden. At the same time, she is struggling with her relationship with her mother. It's a multilayered story, doubly impressive because the author is also the cover (and interior) artist. The pictures create a very distinct feeling, and really add a lot, though they're small and non-intrusive. Apparently Augarde has done a lot of pop-up books, which sounds intriguing. And, this is evidently the first in a trilogy. I look forward to more. This was a very different and unexpected little gem.