Sunday, September 03, 2017

Once Upon a Snowy MidWinter Eve: Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow) by Kieran Larwood

"My darlings, if you are reading this, then our worst nightmare has come true. The dagger you hold is our warren's greatest treasure, Starclaw. It is one of the Twelve Gifts given to the tribes back at the start of time. The Gorm are hunting the Twelve Gifts, so this dagger must be kept from them. That is now your job. Run fast, my darlings. Your father and I love you more than you will ever know.               --Mother."

It is a dark and snowy Bramblemas Eve when the wandering old bard finds his way into a snug warren to earn himself a meal and a mug of mead with a well-told tale. The little ones are eagerly awaiting the visit of the Midwinter Rabbit, but they are soon enthralled with the bard's tale of their legendary hero, Podkin One-Ear, master of the Five Realms.

As the bard tells it, Podkin was once the pampered son of the warrior chieftain Lodkin of Munberry Warren, too lazy to master history, geography, and especially the ways of warfare, easily bested by his older sister Paz in swordplay. But his easy life ends in a single night when the warren is overrun by the dreaded Gorm, horrible creatures, half-rabbit, half rusty-eyed, iron-armored warriors, corrupted by their lust for iron. Podkin's and Paz's father and his warriors are swiftly slain, and Pod and Paz, with their baby brother Pook, barely avoid the same fate with the aid of their Auntie Olwyn, who shows them a secret tunnel out of the burrow and gives Podkin a letter from their mother and the magical copper dagger, Starclaw, a gift of the Goddess to his Realm, that can cut through all but the iron armor and weapons of the Gorm.

The three escape through the frozen night, but are soon followed by a squadron of the Gorm. Podkin manages to make use of the magic of Starclaw, downing a tree and dispatching the detachment of Gorm warriors in one fell swoop, and the three at last find themselves sheltered by the mistress and chieftain of Redwater warren, who warn them again of the corrupting powers of the iron that drives rabbits to the dark side:

"Keep your warren warm, but ... don't dig too deep."

And there's many another hairsbreadth escape from the Gorm, who are hot on their trail, in one of which Podkin loses an ear, many a disguise and loyal followers found, and rip-roaring adventures in their quest to rescue their mother from the evil iron-clad warriors, and at last it comes down to Podkin One-Ear and Starclaw's magic facing down the evil warrior-king of the Gorms, Scramashank.

With the proper mood-inducing frame story of the old bard and his midwinter's eve tale and with all the tropes of classic English fantasy tales--from The Hobbit, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and sequels, and all the rest--well in place, Kieran Larwood's forthcoming Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow) (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017) manages to hit all the requisite elements--iron as symbol of the lure of power, as in Tolkien's Ring, the young hero, somehow marked, chosen to defeat that evil, and the threat of the malevolent power capable of turning a beguiled seeker toward wickedness.

And, as is suggested in the planned sequels to this title, this riveting novel begins a courageous quest in which certain tasks must be undertaken and magical objects recovered, as in Harry Potter's search for the horcruxes and his showdown with Voldemort. Not only does this new adventure satisfyingly hit all the marks, it is also superlative storytelling, an original one-of-a-kind story with a young hero and heroine and a theme with which middle readers just finding their way into to the classic fantasies of the genre will readily identify:

"You don't have to be brave or strong or powerful to do incredible things."

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