Cressida Cowell is a phenomenon, producing volume after volume of fantasy adventure stories without ever losing quality or zest. She also illustrates them in wild black pencil, with cartoonish figures sometimes taking up whole pages or else cropping up mid paragraph. This current title is the last volume in her Wizards of Once quartet, describing the struggles of young Xar and Wish as they seek to restore their troubled land the wildwoods to its former peaceful and prosperous state. Their bitterly divided parents are no help here but fortunately there are many others, including an animated spoon, firmly on their side. Danger is provided by assorted witches and villains such as Brutal the Heartless, but there is always a way out even when the existing odds would strongly suggest otherwise.
This story begins somewhat statically with some preliminary explanations of what has gone before but after that things really let rip at a pace never less than hectic. Extreme violence while often threatened is nearly always avoided in favour of last minute rescues. Characters are more human than heroic, as often as not possessing a fragile dignity that never quite succeeds in covering up their faults however hard they try. The only exception is Looker, Xar’s older brother, happy to exhibit his essential selfishness until the very end. At this point it gradually becomes clear that all the main characters are in fact junior players in the future court of King Arthur. But the unhappiness and division that is now bound to follow as they get older is not part of this jolly story’s remit. Readers can simply sit back and enjoy rollicking fun from an author-illustrator working at top form as well as high speed. The perfect choice as the current Children’s Laureate in 2019, her tenure has now been extended to June 2022. Children are lucky to have her, and so are we.