The second book in Eliopoulos’ (The Mythic Forest, 2013) Fabelwald saga tells the tale of twins Dandle and Lion, children of the first volume’s Erich and Rapunzel, as they begin to discover the magic inside them and the struggle between Light and Dark that defines the world around them.
In the Clearing, humans and elves live in harmony, working for themselves rather than a king or lord of the manor. It’s here that Dandle and Lion grow up, orphans raised by Auntie Rose, whose former nobility and close brush with a “dybbuk,” a demon who possesses living beings, make her an oddity in the village. While she schools them in human skills, their magical abilities are nurtured by tattooed Daskalos, who has some of the skills the elves and faeries possess. He helps Dandle and Lion learn how to listen to trees, track, and cast simple spells. Smart, opinionated Dandle is frustrated by the sexist attitudes that disallow her from fun like splashing in the falls with the boys: “It was unfair that she was kept from the most strenuous work because she was a girl.” Lion, who’s also smart and capable, begins to hear whispers in the night; fearing a demon’s influence, he’s relieved to realize it’s the call of the Sword of Princes, a hereditary weapon that he doesn’t know marks him as a future king. Meanwhile, a couple of ogres far from home—one a mindless beast known only as Hungry, the other the shrewd but still bloodthirsty Sneaky—make their way through the Dark Wood, plotting to snare themselves a human meal. As a sophomore entry to a series, the book is heavy on exposition and worldbuilding, skillfully developing the world of Brutes, dwarves, elves, faeries, and men. While there’s some narrative tension, it’s mostly a coming-of-age story, preparing Dandle and Lion for their roles in the fight between Light and Dark. Eliopoulos’ well-drawn illustrations, a combination of pencil and digital techniques, enrich the world, with further adventures on the horizon.
An engaging effort, though it reads mostly like a bridge between more eventful books.