Over 10 years after Thorn Ogres of Hagwood (2002), a middle volume appears, doing more to indulge the author’s love of grotesque magical creatures than advance his derivative plotline.
The tale zips among points of view as well as back and forth from murky Hagwood Forest to the subterranean Unseelie Court and the mazes of tunnels and caverns deeper down. It sends diminutive Gamaliel Tumpkin and his shape-changing fellow werlings on a search for the hidden casket that holds the beating heart of Rhiannon Rigantona, murderous Queen of the Hollow Hill. The story reads more like a sendup than a credible quest fantasy. Along with silly names aplenty, Jarvis trucks in armies of odd creatures. Snaggle-featured spriggans and glutinous sluglungs (“Snot monsters!” as a revolted onlooker accurately exclaims) keep characters busy between encounters with the odd barn bogle, candle sprite or troll hag. One character is described as a “human dwarf,” and most of the other females are likewise evil, ugly, or, in the case of Gamaliel’s sister Kernella, fat, loud, stupid and in need of rescuing. Following various assaults, the questers and their pursuers gather for a climactic battle that, thanks to a contrived twist, proves indecisive and so leaves the door open for the next episode.
It offers some creepy moments and critters, but it’s more often a pale imitation of one of Brian Jacques’ woodland epics. With slime. (Fantasy. 10-12)