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This issue's cover illustration by David Wyatt is from C J Busby's Cauldron Spells (978 1 8487 7085 0, £5.99 pbk). Thanks to Templar Publishing for their help with this March cover.
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
'The weald,' we read, 'was large and wild and it swallowed up those who ventured into its vast wilderness.' This unforgiving fantasy terrain, already familiar to those who have read Stewart and Riddell's Returner's Wealth, the first volume of their projected Wyrmeweald trilogy, once again serves as setting for a complex narrative in which the destinies of all kinds of dragons and all kinds of humans intermingle. Now covered in the most dense of snowfalls, it proves to be an exacting environment for testing resilience and perseverance. Initially, the reader's principal interest focuses on teenager Micah, his aspiration to become one of those who hunt and trap 'wyrmes' and his evolving friendship with the much older 'cragclimber' known as Eli. As they traverse the unremittingly harsh landscape and in the process encounter a disconcertingly varied assortment of creatures - human and otherwise - the journey becomes a real eye-opener (for them and readers alike) in its increasing emphasis on blood and blood-letting and its frequent violence and cruelties - though there is time also for the development of adolescent love and sexuality. Very little here is what it might at first seem; ambiguity is everywhere and readers will need to be at their most alert in following the many twists in plot and switches in loyalties and allegiances. Stewart's fantasy is at its most inventive in his creation of the fascinating - if at times very sinister - subterranean territory known as Deephome, complete with its enigmatic denizens, its labyrinthine tunnels and restorative baths. His prose is atmospherically enhanced by Riddell's panel-style black and white illustrations, many of them excellently capturing the other worldly eeriness of the text.