A debut fantasy displaces a boy in time and sends him on a medieval quest.
Ten-year-old Alex Pitts lives in Penmellyn, a village on the coast of Cornwall, England. While witnessing a solar eclipse with his father, Alex is thrown back across centuries to the days of King Arthur. The landscape is the same but there is little sign of civilization. At first, Alex thinks he must be dreaming. He takes shelter in a fogou (a refuge fashioned from buried stone walls) but is attacked by barbarians and saved by a wolf. Alex then meets the wizard Merlin and is sent on a quest to reclaim King Bran’s cauldron of rebirth, which has been spirited away to Ireland. On his journey, Alex encounters witches, faeries, spriggans, and giants. Back in the present day, Alex’s dad begins looking for him, vowing not to return home until his son is found. These quests play out in parallel as, relentlessly, the months pass. Griffin draws on the fairy tale tradition of “tell, not show,” and takes pains to elucidate each thought, word, and deed. Despite this, the principal characters remain undistinguished. (Merlin is kindly but generic; Alex is all but forgettable, relying constantly on others to save him.) As with “Hansel and Gretel,” though, it is the myth and magic of the land that will draw readers in: the haggish witches; the faithful wolf; the ugly giant yearning for friendship. Griffin shows a deep appreciation of place, and it is Cornwall and Cornish folklore that take center stage. The modern-day action is, conversely, a weakness. The search that Alex’s dad undertakes intrudes on the main story, and readers will likely be less forgiving of the stage dialogue that prevails throughout this thread: “No. Look, Jory. I have a really powerful torch that will illuminate the whole cliff face. Let’s walk slowly along the shingle.” Nonetheless, the story’s moral—do not judge by appearances—is strongly presented, and middle-grade readers should find enough in Alex’s adventure to tug at their imaginations.
A tethered but appealing introduction to Cornish legend and Odyssean narrative.