By Sally Gardner
Published by Indigo/Orion
On the cover of Tinder, a threatening werewolf with sharp teeth looks down over medieval rooftops, and the novel's title is splashed across the front in blood-red letters.
A great deal of imagination and care has gone into the presentation of this book, with some amazing drawings used inside to illustrate the story. This is one book that demands to be read in hard copy, not on an e-reader.
Sally Gardner isn't the sort of writer to repeat herself: Tinder could not be more different than her previous novel, Maggot Moon. As a starting point, Gardner has taken Hans Christian Andersen's sinister fairytale, The Tinder Box. But she has then developed her own dark tale on the themes of light versus dark, and the destructive power of wealth and obsession. It may be a fairy tale, but it is most definitely not for young eyes.
The story is set in 1640s Europe. A war has been raging, and 18-year-old Otto is tired of battle. He has seen his friends killed and feels that he can take no more. But Death decides to spare Otto, and the young man walks away from the battlefield into the nearby woods, where terrors beyond his imagination wait for him.
A mysterious half-man half-animal nurses Otto back to health, then gives him a set of dice that will show him the way through the dark woods. Otto suddenly comes across a man who can transform into a wolf. While hiding from the werewolf, he meets a girl called Safire, and the pair join forces to get out of the woods.
But events separate them, and Otto is determined to track down the missing girl. He is soon plunged into a dark adventure, meeting evil in all shapes and sizes. Nothing seems able to stop Otto's journey into the woods from getting darker.
The atmosphere is packed with suspense, with everything from traditional European horror tales - a wicked queen, scary castles and villagers terrified of evil spirits - thrown into the dark mix. Like all of Gardner's books, the writing is classy and engrossing.
And then there are David Roberts' unsettling illustrations, which form an essential part of the story. They are some of the most effective ever seen in modern YA fiction.
Tinder is an extraordinary piece of older teen fiction, full of menace, excitement and beauty. This is one book that cannot be recommended highly enough.
John Millen can be contacted at MillenBookshelf@aol.com