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The Winter Knights: The Edge Chronicles #8    by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell order for
Winter Knights
by Paul Stewart
Order:  USA  Can
David Fickling Books, 2007 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell extend their Edge Chronicles with The Winter Knights. The Most High Academe, Linius Pallitax died of a mysterious illness and is mourned by many, especially his daughter Maris, Quint Verginix, an apprentice to Pallitax, and Quint's father, sky-pirate captain Wind Jackal. Without Pallitax, Quint (Undertowner-born) no longer has a sponsor for entry into the Knights Academy.

In the floating-rock city of Sanctaphrax, all are abuzz anticipating the assignment of the next Most High Academe. It's announced that before he died Pallitax passed the chain of office to the dual-leadership of the Professor of Light and the Professor of Darkness. Quint's hope is renewed when he learns that the Professor of Light will be his new sponsor for the Knights Academy. He rushes to tell Maris his good fortune, only to find Pallitax's faithful servants, spindlebug Tweezel and motherly woodtroll Welma in great distress. The apartment has been emptied and, sadly, Maris has left Sanctaphrax. Tweezel was shown the order signed in his 'master's own hand' placing Mistress Maris in the guardianship of a maternal distant cousin, Dacia, and her spouse, who's a prominent leaguesman in Undertown. From Undertown there are silent rumors that 'under shall rule above', as some deviously plan for power and wealth.

Sanctaphrax faces 'legendary weather' in unseasonable snowstorms, fear building as the rock grows heavier from the freezing temperatures, and its chain-metal tether strains to break free from the Edge. Blistering wind slices the air, as 'the frozen snow creaked and crunched beneath the feet of city dwellers… laying thick and heavy snowfall upon every statue, dome, cupola, bridge and buttress in a featureless white blanket'. In addition to ice blizzards, the rock's inhabitants worry about 'ancient feuds' that threaten their future. There were once efforts to create living harmony between earth and sky scholars, but the sky scholars overthrew the earth scholars, closing the Great Library, where thousands of scrolls 'are now shut up and forgotten'. The overthrow of earth scholars is celebrated each year on Treasury Day by a pompous parade and speeches, yet there are those who stand in the crowds planning a takeover.

Quint enters the Academy with the support of new friends Phin and Squire Raff. His training includes the assignment of a newborn, just-out-of-the egg prowlgrin to feed and tend to, as the mewling gentle creatures become flight partners. Quint's hope is to be assigned 'stormchasing in the Twilight Woods to retrieve the valuable stormphrax'. It is a dangerous journey, and the precious material is delivered by the Great Storm, diligently watched for by the professors. The stormphrax arrives as 'tiny shards of lightning ... glowing crystals', buried into the ground of the Deepwoods. The time arrives when in the Lecture Dome of the Hall of High Cloud, the Knights Academy head tells them 'Our friends from the School of Mist inform me that these clouds are laden with sourmist particles ... Open Sky be praised!' The best knight is sent on a stormchase, not returning, and others are assigned to follow, as Quint and friends face unexpected foes.

As before, Stewart and Riddell deliver fine-tuned, well orchestrated writing, with names that roll and twist delightfully on the tongue, accompanied by illustrations of billowing sails of stormchaser and pirate ships, loving and menacing faces, and the splendor of the towers of Sanctaphrax. The Winter Knights carries forward a few characters from previous Chronicles. However, this eighth volume - one of the best in the series - can be read as a stand-alone story, featuring strong, new characterizations and constant-action, with satisfying suspense. May the Sky preserve you until the next episode.

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