This sequel to The Cup of the World bears the same qualities of originality, imaginative intensity and story-telling talent. Its main character is 12-year-old Ambrose, a recognisable boy rather than an obvious hero in the making. Apprehensive, graceless and ignorant, he has much to learn. When he finally meets the young character of the opposite sex who is to share his burden, an apparently obligatory presence in modern fantasy stories, he is woefully ineffective. Although they come together later, there is no romantic ending since both still have important, all-consuming work to do in their own respective communities.
Dedicated to the author’s father, the brilliant and prolific writer Peter Dickinson, this book is an examination of parent-child conflict and the necessity of forgiveness. It is also shot through with formal, Jesuitical-type discussions about the nature of politics and the true identity of evil. It is not always easy to read, quite apart from the muscular strain incurred simply by the act of picking it up. Yet for all that, this is rich and finely wrought writing, taking readers on a genuine journey of imagination rather than merely leading them round and round the same garden. There are no jokes except for bitter ones, and some characters are rather more convincing than others, with Ambrose’s mother a particular casualty. But in its eloquence about the horrors of war and the necessity for those compromises necessary for establishing peace, this is truly a story for our time.