Page 45 Review by Stephen
"How does an armchair fall down the back of a sofa anyway?"
Good point, well made, and in the strangest of circumstances.
Did you ever wonder what happened to those odd socks, hats, scarves, the sixth issue of your favourite comic and that 5lb slab of milk chocolate you can't find?
Err, I can explain the milk chocolate and I'm ever so sorry.
But the rest didn't get lost in the wash, you know. You don't even put comics in the wash, do you? Do you
?! No, there is a far more thrilling explanation which lies in those hidden corners of your house which you won't find revealed in the average home survey!
Now what, do you think, does all this have to do with the gigantic, black, wolf-like creature, nearly two storeys high, which has been seen lurking at night in the heart of the city of Trolberg? Even Hilda's mother has spotted it out of the corner of her eye and the papers are calling it "The Black Beast Of Trolberg"!
It could make Hilda's first weekend camp with the Sparrow Scouts ever so slightly trepidatious.
Welcome back to the fourth British Comics Awards-winning HILDA mystery (fifth now out in hardcover!) in which you will discover that the countryside doesn't hold the monopoly on fanciful creatures and geographical wonders. There are House Spirits called Nisses hidden in your home. Yes, yours! They have big bulbous noses and they're so very hairy that you can't even see their eyes. They're solitary creatures and highly territorial, which is why you've probably not met one before. You will, though, you will
Hilda and her mother are slowly adjusting to life in the city, but Hilda still yearns for camping under canvas. When her mother is nearly slapped in the face by a wind-tossed leaflet advertising the Sparrow Scouts' next meeting she recalls how much fun she had erecting tents, building bonfires and earning more badges than anyone else in her flock! Hilda is dutifully enrolled with its Raven Leader in time for a six-week course preparing for their weekend camping expedition, learning to secure shelters, tie herself in knots, read maps and rescue a family of inch-tall elves from the bundle of kindling they had reasonably presumed to be some sort of tepee. They'd moved their entire lounge in.
Hilda is determined to impress her mother and win as many trophies as possible, but her Camping Badge comes under threat when she discovers in the woods a Nisse who'd been summarily evicted from his house for trashing it. He claims that he hadn't, but once banished he cannot return. Later that night she sneaks out with provisions but instead of finding the House Spirit, she is faced with a giant black shadow with huge white eyes glowing in the dark!
All of these things are connected, as well as the sudden growth in homeless House Spirits. With so much for our insatiably inquisitive Hilda to investigate with her white-furred, antlered pet Twig it will be a wonder if she earns any badges at all!
With Flying Eye Books you can guarantee top-quality production values, lavished here on art which deserves all the pampering it receives. The beast is a black beauty, while dappled pet Twig is one of the cutest creatures ever drawn. More than once he is tossed from his basket by the frantic goings-on in comedic panels worthy of Charles Schultz.
It's an odd thing to pick out, but I also adore the way that coloured hair falls over one of Hilda's eyes - and her mother's - yet you can see the rest of its outline underneath. Even a trip to the grocery store is a visual feast, with such exciting jars, bottles and paper packets lining the shelves that you wonder what on earth's in them and can't help but speculate how tasty they'd be. There's a great deal of nose-to-nose contact, a sneaky guest-appearance by Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson himself in a typically domestic SOPPY tableau, and an action-packed, runaway, distance-hopping finale that will have you on the edge of your car seat.
There are many things which drive the HILDA series, among them these three: the magic of the art, the curiosity of a cat, and Hilda's overriding instinct to help, even when she's advised against it or the odds are all stacked against her. Not everything goes to plan, and there are quietly affecting moments of silent contemplation staring out of windows, but then in the morning resolve is renewed and Hilda will try once again!
As a parent I would be proud of that sort of determined compassion in any of my children, and I beam to see it portrayed in the pluckiest of young people here.