By Katherine Langrish
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 978 0 00 721489 1
Katherine Langrish's Troll trilogy, set in spooky ancient Norway, stands out among the stacks of fantasy novels weighing down youth fiction bookshelves. In her new book, Dark Angels, Langrish has crossed the North Sea to 12th century Wales.
Here both the nobility in their castles and the peasants in their villages hang on to dark, ancient legends and beliefs. The geography of this mysterious land and the lives of its people provide a fertile backdrop for an exciting story, and Langrish shows once again that she is the writer to tell it.
The first few pages of Dark Angels throw us headlong into the story. A young boy is running away from something terrible. He finds himself lost on a dark hillside on which the Devil himself is said to have built a road.
Elves live deep inside the slopes, dark tunnels and bottomless caves, and 13-year-old Wolf knows he should keep his distance. Devil's Edge is a place to be avoided on a wet and murky night, but the boy has no choice.
Wolf has had enough of his cruel life in the abbey, his home and prison for the past eight years. He has been constantly beaten, under-fed and treated like an animal. Wolf thinks there must be a better life on the other side of the hill, so he decides to make a run for it.
Alone on the hillside, Wolf makes two chance encounters that change his life. He meets a hunting party led by Sir Hugo, the local nobleman, and he comes across a small creature that could be an elf child that has lost its way.
Sir Hugo orders Wolf to capture the creature and bring it back to his castle - he has reasons of his own to make contact with the elf kingdom.
At the castle, Wolf meets Nest, Sir Hugo's teenage daughter. The two of them look after the elf child until Sir Hugo decides what to do with it. But there is danger both inside and outside the castle walls, as supernatural and human forces struggle to stop Sir Hugo and his secret plans.
One of Langrish's strengths as a storyteller is her ability to make fantasy seem a perfectly normal part of her story. Dark Angels is persuasively written with credible characters struggling with real emotions, as well as the magic and mystery that pervades their lives.
Dark Angels ends neatly, but could there be more to follow? Will Wolf be called on to undertake new adventures? This is an absorbing stand-alone adventure, but who knows where the talented Langrish will take her readers next.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com