Returner’s Wealth is the latest novel by the British duo of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, and the start to a new series, the Wyrmeweald Trilogy. They are most famous for their ten book children/young adult epic, The Edge Chronicles, but they have many others in their extensive bibliography. Though for younger readers, I’ve had the chance to read, and enjoy, quite a few of their books, and so when I first learned of Wyrmeweald, a dragon-epic meet western fantasy for a slightly older public I was thrilled and knew for sure that I had to get my hands on it. I count these two authors among some of the most creative, but to my delight, they have outdone themselves again by bringing to readers this brand-new fantasy adventure.
Meet young pioneer, Micah. With his heart set on finding fortune, he is about to discover something more prized than any returner’s wealth. In the wyrmweald, fearsome, ferocious creatures – wyrmes – run wild and free. It’s no place for a man, but for Micah it brings kinship like no other, and enemies for life. One foolish deed can turn a boy into a villain – but in the wyrmeweald there’s always a chance to become a hero…I did not come into to this book with very many expectations, other than the assumption that I would greatly enjoy myself and my criteria were met if not surpassed. I had my doubts about these renowned authors of children and early teenager books trying their hand at writing for an older audience but they pulled it off. Granted, it’s not a much older public but I noticed a change in the narrative and the plot elements all the same. Returner’s Wealth still remains very much aimed at teenagers but it has a much more mature feel than Stewart’s & Riddell’s Edge Chronicles.
The story in Returner’s Wealth is simple – it doesn’t have multiple side-plots and sub-plots, it’s just straightforward. You might think that such a structure would make for a boring book, but I found it to do the opposite. Instead of constantly pondering about a multitude of other elements while reading, I was able to give my full and undivided attention to what was going on the page, the paragraph or the sentence I was on. I won’t venture to say that this is better or worse than a more complex novel (that would take too much thinking, you see) but it is refreshing.
If the plot is not complex than Stewart & Riddell make up for it in the detail of the world that they have created. The Wyrmeweald is a place of strange seasons, people and creatures. The wyrmes themselves make up to majority of what is described in the books – they come in hundreds, if not thousands, of different types, each with its own niche and physique. There are so many that remembering them all seems like a daunting and near-impossible task. I, for one, didn’t even try, restricting myself to the few types that came up the most often or were the most central to the story. This dragon-filled world is meant to bear a resemblance to the frontier, in the Western sense, but had I not known that in advance I would most likely not associated what is described in Returner’s Wealth with that theme. The elements are certainly present though, with your social outcasts gone pioneers for the prospect of acquiring untold riches and the ever present need for survival and a kill or be killed element that pops up every once in a while.
The characters are relatively few but are strong enough to support the weight of the story. Our main character Micah is one of the aforementioned outcasts, but of course he quickly becomes something else entirely. If flashbacks are what you like, there are plenty in the first half of the book to satisfy your need, each flashback relating in sequence the events leading up to Micah’s arrival in the wyrmeweald. The other characters, minus perhaps the dangerous Thrace, all play very defined supporting character roles and are often quite hard to relate to. It is in the interactions between the characters that I really saw the change in writing for Stewart & Riddell from what I’d previously read in the Edge Chronicles to what it is in Returner’s Wealth. There is a greater authenticity to these interactions and, as I said before, the more mature feel.
As far as young adult fantasies go, Returner’s Wealth turns out to be a winner. I was captivated throughout by the imaginative view that Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell have provided readers with. I eager to see where they take the story in the second and third novels of Wyrmeweald and will without a doubt looking out for them. Though probably best for young adult readers, older ones should not be deterred from reading Returner’s Wealth, especially if they are in search of a simpler, just-for-fun read.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 13 and up
Sex/Language: It’s YA, so no
Paul Stewart's & Chris Riddell's website: http://www.stewartandriddell.co.uk
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