Wyrmeweald: Returner’s Wealth was an incredibly strange book for me.
The book follows the story of Micah, a lad who’s left the safety of the plains for the Wyrmeweald, a harsh and unforgiving landscape populated by cut-throat Kith, Kin (which I’ll explain later) and wyrmes of all shapes and sizes (the wyrms being dragon-like creatures). Micah is searching for Returner’s Wealth – wealth that will allow him to return to his life on the plain to live in luxury, and Micah also hopes that this wealth will allow the girl that he loves to fall in love with him, too.
My first problem with the book is that it took about 70 pages for Micah’s being in the wyrmeweald to take shape. I’m not trying to be harsh here, but I was bored out of my mind for those first 50 pages and then, in the next 20, was ready to put the book down and forget about it. When I finally came to the reason it seemed plausible enough and also something that a young guy would do, but I was already on the verge of losing interest in the book; if the character’s motivation isn’t made apparent by at least the third chapter then something is wrong. 😦 Instead I read about how Micah discovers a stunted wyrme, is attacked by someone wielding a lance and finds a companion to travel with. Don’t get me wrong, there is an explanation for why Micah is in the wyrmeweald but that explanation took so long in getting there that I very nearly lost interest – the book was in danger of becoming a fantastical travel-writing experiment.
My other problem with the book is that I can’t decide whether it’s aimed at the YA market or at the adult Fantasy market. Returner’s Wealth has some truly brutal and descriptively violent scenes in it – nothing really hectic by the standards of Epic Fantasy nowadays, but thinking about this book as a YA title really made it clear to me that I wouldn’t want kids reading this. Not because I think it might adversely affect their maturation or some such psychological bull, but because it really seemed out of place and geared more towards a reader who is a bit older and more mature. In the book’s defence, this is the first Stuart-Riddell book I’ve read, so I can’t say whether the violence is something that isn’t found in The Edge Chronicles; also, I may have been reading from a skewed perspective – I live in a country where parents basically proof a book before they let their kids read it, and if the violence is a bit more hectic than what they expect then the kid doesn’t get to read that book; this is something I have to keep in mind everyday in my job as a bookseller, and it’s one of the reasons why I won’t put Returner’s Wealth in our YA section. Also, there seemed to be a real focus on making the reader think of sex – one scene had Micah being made to taste certain things while blindfolded, sweet things like honey and even alcohol. There was no ambiguity, so that younger readers will think along one line and older readers along another – it was pretty much blatant. And yes, it’s not done this way throughout the book -there is one scene toward the end that is very touching and quite beautifully written- but the fact that it’s there at all and so in-your-face worried me, to be honest. Again, as a bookseller – if I sold this book to a young reader who is an Edge Chronicles fan, his mother will be back next week to really give me a piece of her mind. 😦
Another thing that irked me a bit was that one character in particular couldn’t seem to decide what his ‘voice’ was – here I’m talking about they way that he speaks and the words he uses. The character is Micah’s companion, the Kith, Eli Halfwinter, and here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
(In this scene, Eli is talking to another character, Jura):
‘I’d have to think on that,’ said Eli as he shifted round, his leather coat creaking, and dragged the backpack across the floor. ‘Except for the wyrmepelt and scentsac, Jura, you are most welcome to anything that I have collected which you can favourably employ.’
and here’s another scene (Eli talking to Micah):
‘Boy, I want to assure you that you should not feel obliged to remunerate me for my company in the form of conversation. Y’understand?’
Now, here’s Eli speaking as I feel he should have throughout the book, and he does speak this way in the majority of his scenes (Eli talking to Micah):
‘You done good today, lad. Real good. It was a bad tramp. Them rainflood gulches are sore perilous to man and beast alike.’
Same character, completely different ways of speaking. Coming across the hectically formal speech really was jarring – and to be honest, it began to really irritate me. 😦
The book is not all bad, though, to be honest. The landscape of the wyrmeweald is intriguing and harshly beautiful, with plenty of excellent and vivid descriptions that really see this place unfolding before your eyes and the wyrmes themselves are very cool (including the illustrations, which are beautiful). The characters could have been handled better, with Thrace being the most interesting for me – she undergoes much more change than any character in the book, in my opinion, and so has the greatest depth; she was the one who saw me through the book, not Micah- and Eli practically a my-only-purpose-is-to-teach-Micah-about-the-wyrmeweald character; not much depth to him at all. Micah was okay, but seemed to be almost constantly emotional.
Again, understand where I’m coming from – this is my first Stuart-Riddell book, so I’ve got no past-reads to judge from, but this is how I see it – if you include the kind of descriptive violence and (in my opinion) overly sexual scenes that Returner’s Wealth has, then your book shouldn’t be classified as a YA book, and if it’s not classified as YA then you need to really intensely pay attention to the voice your characters have and to really developing them as characters.
So I guess that Returner’s Wealth just wasn’t the book for me, in the end. It walked too fine a line between holding my attention because some parts of it are really cool and pushing me away. Call me old-school but I just wouldn’t be able to recommend this book to our YA customers, and I’ll find it difficult to recommend this book to our Fantasy customers, too. But I could also be totally wrong – The Edge Chronicles could be the same kind of book. So if you’re reading this and thinking that I’m telling you ‘Don’t read this book’ then please understand these are all just my opinions – your opinions will probably be different and at odds with mine, and that’s fine. 🙂