Saturday, 20 August 2011
Writing a sequel isn't easy and when it's the middle book in a trilogy or longer sequence it's especially hard.
I've chosen two books where the authors have carried it off - and I speak as someone who has always liked best The Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars films (original trilogy obviously) and preferred the Two Towers to the other two books and films in Lord of the Rings.
(And I've written two trilogies and a sextet so far, so know some of the pitfalls.)
First, Pat Walsh, whose The Crowfield Curse was a runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children's Books Competition in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Fiction Prize when it was published in 2010. It told the story of William an orphan boy taken in by a monastery in the 14th century and befriended by a Hob, a friendly nature spirit. They discover after a complicated plot, a buried Angel in a place avoided by locals and monks alike. And it is - terrifyingly - still alive.
This time it's an altogether more sinister being which is struggling to get free of the bonds that constrain it and is pulling down the Crowfield Abbey chapel in the process. Young William is now bound to a mysterious and powerful fay with a scarred face and silver hair and it takes both of them and the Hob and the good Brother Snail to find out what is going on and prevent the spirit worshipped by the evil Dame Alys and her pet white crows from coming back.
Raum, or Belinus as Alys calls him, is a crow-headed demon with blood-red feathers and even the local alchemist can't circumscribe or dispel him. There is a thrilling return of another character at the end and promise of much to come in the next book.
Gillian Philip's Firebrand was my favourite book of last year, introducing Seth McGregor, another fay or fairy who is as much like the little winged folk as David Starkey is like Camilla Batmadjeli.
There are going to be four books all together in the Rebel Angels sequence and Bloodstone, the second, is just out. many female bloggers have waited, hearts a-flutter, for the return of Seth and tend to fall into rather overheated descriptions of his appeal so I am going to be restrained.
Seth and his brother Conal are not immortals but are immensely long-lived and have now arrived in the 21st century in our world. They are searching for the bloodstone, an apparently impossible task set by Kate NicNiven, the Queen of the Sithe, and have been doing it for centuries. But Seth is still a teenager with an admired older (half)-brother.
That's clever, because boy readers can identify with him and girl readers lust after him and he is still one of them yet with a wealth of experience and a long history behind him, which makes him as cool as he is hot.
It's a complicated plot and the McGuffin of the stone is well-disguised. Unlike Pat Walsh, Gillian Philip has a harsh approach to the recap and I was floundering fora while about when and where we were. But it is a legitimate approach, given that neither writer would want us to start here.
My only cavil about Seth in this book is that he seems to have learned so little in four hundred years, not about the stone, but about himself and his own temper. This leads to a bit too much unsconsidered bashing for my taste.
But there are some heart-stopping scenes and one that will break your heart.
And if I don't quite love either of these sequels as much as the original books it is not a comment on the writers' skills; more an acceptance that once you know the worlds and the characters, you settle into quiet and satisfied recognition rather than being knocked out by the shock of the new.