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Freeglader: Edge Chronicles #7    by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell order for
by Paul Stewart
Order:  USA  Can
David Fickling Books, 2006 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Undertown has been washed away by a storm, leaving the homeless to journey to the Free Glades, where they hope to begin a new, peaceable life. Sky pirate leader Deadbolt Vulpoon and his minions will ne'er soar the skies again. Their precious vessels have rotted in the mud from the 'stone sickness'. Librarian knight Rook Barkwater, who once saved Vulpoon from imprisonment in a shryke cage, convinces the sky pirates to help the homeless multitude reach the Free Glades.

The librarian knights set off in three groups of sky crafts. The Professor of Darkness leads one to the Twilight Woods, the Professor of Light commands the Eastern Roost Flight, while the Captain of the Librarian Knights, Varix Lodd, leads the third to the Deepwoods. Rook is ordered by Varix to stay with the land travelers, entrusted with the safety of the barkscrolls. Rook aches for his damaged sky ship Stormhornet, but accepts the assignment. The crossing will not be easy as the emigrants face many dangers - the Mire, a muddy, barren wasteland; the inviting Twilight Woods, death for those who enter; and the Deepwoods, with its bloodoaks, poisonous plants, insects, and primitive tribes, who hunt in packs.

Once conceived by great architect Vox Verlix, the masterpiece that was the Great Mire Road has collapsed, and in its place are mudflats and mudholes. Out of pieces from the Road, the travelers remake their carts' round-wheels into sledges for easier transport of the heavy load over mud. Facing high winds, and icy rain, tired and hungry, they tread step-by-step in a stupor, roped one to another, with prowlgrins pulling the sledges. Then they are attacked by a pack of bloodthirsty Muglumps, who devour the prowlgrins. The emigrants pull the sledges toward the horizon, and it is ecstasy to stop to rest and abate their hunger. To lighten their load, Xanth Filatine suggests abandoning the sledges, and that each carry a barkscroll in backpacks.

Hopes are buoyed as they rope in pairs, conversing as they walk, to prevent a 'waking dream'. The madness of the Twilight Woods threatens on one side with the risk of a plunge over the Edge on the other. Lost in clouds of fog, Rook falls over the Edge, is hit by a 'sepia storm', and loses part of his memory. Xanth carries Rook to the banderbears, who transport him to Lullabee Island for healing. Coddled in the 'soft woven fibers' of a caterbird cocoon, Rook dreams of a sky ship of long ago, being pulled by a caterbird with a man and a young boy at the helm. (The dreams are reminiscences of the beginnings of The Edge Chronicles.)

Foundry Master Hemuel Spume glories in the prosperity of the Foundry Glades in the Deepwoods, run with slave labor. Smokestacks fill the air with acrid fumes, and chained workers arrive to replace those who perish but the numbers are never enough to suit the Master, who plans to make the Free Glades into Slave Glades with help from his ally Hemtuft Battleaxe, leader of the Goblin Nations. The vicious Sisterhood of Shrykes also wish to conquer the Free Glades. Rook Barkwater trains as a Freeglade Lancer as the threat of War approaches. The War scenes are dramatic and emotional, and sadly some loved characters are lost. Goblin slave masters and slaves march behind destructive metal machines ready to battle. As they approach New Undertown, the threat of destruction of all, including the new Library and its treasured barkscrolls, becomes a reality.

Paul Riddell's last installment in The Edge Chronicles is a mesmerizing finale, with an exceptional rendition of the Reckoning ceremony. Riddell delivers superb characterization, alluring descriptions and action, and an explosive ending. Chris Riddell's illustrations speak to the reader in finely-detailed facial features, with intensity of shadings from grey to black. I was enthralled by this closing episode. I recommend it to fans of this alternate world, and I bless the banderbears!

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