Page 45 Review by Stephen
Never threaten a mother's child; or a child's mother, for that matter.
It's a bond that should never be broken.
Welcome back to the wild, rock-strewn countryside of HILDA outside the tall city walls of Trolberg, defended against its indigenous inhabitants with enormous bells, the clanging of which repels those Trolls almost as forcefully as sunlight deters them. Sunlight quite literally petrifies them.
But those same Trolls have been appearing outside their dank, cavernous mountain home in larger numbers of late - in their hundreds, perhaps thousands - and roaming farther afield. Specifically they seem to be drawn, by some compelling inner instinct which they do not understand, to that very city whose human inhabitants, already nervous, are growing increasingly alarmed.
HILDA AND THE STONE FOREST certainly culminated in quite the unexpected climax, didn't it?
We've never known HILDA end on a cliffhanger before! As a result, insatiably inquisitive explorer Hilda and her more cautious Mum have found themselves in much altered circumstances, utterly bewildered and terribly separated with very little hope - it seems - of reversing their plight.
I'm going to be as elusive as possible about the exact nature of this strange transformation in their lives, but what I can tell you is that Hilda herself is enjoying an enforced holiday in that subterranean stone forest, while Mum and furry-faced family friend Tontu have a rampaging new house guest on their hands.
Neither party knows for sure what's become of the other, but both are going to go to the greatest lengths possible to find each other and be reunited using natural curiosity, making what they hope are new friends and learning whatever they can about the Trolls' history and customs. The Trolls, for example, collect stuff. It's a recycling of sorts - certainly a more positive pastime than fly-tipping.
"What are all these piles of junk?"
"We gather it from the city outskirts. Things the humans have dumped or don't seem to need any more."
"You know vegetables aren't buried in the ground because people don't need them, right?"
"Well it's a funny place to leave them."
With the mystery and emergency already established at the end of the last volume (and recapped in a handy-dandy, two-page "Previously..."), Pearson makes maximum use of the increased page count this affords to weave in additional dangers and suspicions - on both sides and from multiple directions - and build on what we've already established as the Trolls' nature while subtly but repeatedly emphasising the acute anxiety of separation: the separation of parent and child.
Everyone I know has an embedded memory or three of being separated from their parents, be it lost briefly in a crowd or a far more protracted affair, and far too many parents I know have experienced the same terror from their own perspective. The vividness of the childhood memories after perhaps decades is a testament to the extent of the trauma. It's going to resonate with readers, is what I'm saying, and create quite the incentive for families to fly through these pages - they're gripping!
Hilda and her mother can, if not hear, then at least sense each other calling throughout, but the distance between them is emphasised by the marked contrast in colours. The warm glow of earthy, autumnal colours both within the sanctuary of home and on the pages following the mother's daylight efforts on the hillside to establish Hilda's whereabouts are matched once Hilda manages to venture outside the mountain, albeit temporarily at night, for the starlit skies glow a golden brown; but while trapped underground inside the Trolls' mountain, the colours are cold and empty in greys, green and pale aquamarine, stark white or echoing black.
Having successfully avoided the biggest spoilers for HILDA AND THE STONE FOREST, then, I leave you with a last illustration, Hilda's dream-like vision in threatening scarlet, catalysed by the glowing orb which forms her third and final quest to reverse her predicament...
Whatever can it mean? And will any of them figure it out before the humans scramble up the mountain to attack with their new secret weapon, or the Trolls descend en masse to Trolberg and wreak havoc on the city's rush-hour traffic and much cherished civic floral displays?