Page 45 Review by Stephen
"My life was over the day I ran away."
One bloody-nosed, flat-on-his-back and barely conscious close-up later, you're swept straight into action on the previous day.
With the elements against him, twelve-year-old Erik Farrell is racing through the rain under a storm-shrouded sky, looking fearfully over his shoulder. Dodging traffic, he dashes for the relative safety of Central Park, past protesting pedestrians, their umbrellas caught in the squall, and dives for cover under a rock.
"People say that running away doesn't solve anything at all. "Find somebody to talk to," they tell you. But when you talk to them they just don't understand. If you've never thought about running away, you're just lying to yourself. Sometimes, we all just need space to figure things out."
Clutching another kid's bear-shaped backpack, he falls asleep, exhausted and oblivious to the obsidian, red-eyed goblin creatures taking his measure. When he wakes up in the morning, it's a jungle out there. It's the very moment of peace which Erik will enjoy to figure anything out.
From now on he will be climbing, swimming and sprinting for his life in an exotic but alien land called Chimerika, a composite country full of strange creatures at war, and said to have been patched together from the most dangerous worlds by a dragon-like chimera called Baalikar. It can be anything and see everything. And it now has Erik very much in its sights.
Throwing your protagonist straight in at the unknowing deep end is an excellent way to get your readers on board both with the adventure, the environment and the poor lad desperately trying to navigate it by thinking fast on his feet and puzzle his way out of trouble. You're learning as he's learning, and there is plenty to discover, for example why the moon appears to be broken, its shattered shards suspended in space around the rupture. Constantly captured by one faction or another, Erik gleans what he can from each, but their own knowledge is limited to what little they've learned themselves, what they have time to impart in a rare, spare moment or whether they have any inclination to do so.
Vitally, however, Gallaher maintains young minds' investment in Erik with all the real-world baggage he's carrying with him, so familiar to so many: issues of self-confidence, impotence in an existence which is dictated by the authority of adults or, here, those he encounters, all of whom are bigger and more brutal than he.
A little pluck goes a long way and Erik is determined to do what he can. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes he fails, but he does have a go and that, Gallaher reminds us, is what's important. Also, I feel that this will speak to so many:
"I hate making choices.
"I really hate making the wrong choices.
"At my age, everything feels like the wrong choice."
Artist Steve Ellis, meanwhile, makes all the right choices, accentuating Erik's strengths which lie during combat in his relatively small size, keeping him running flat-our and low. As early as the opening few pages he's charging with his arms and torso thrust forward, close to the ground, nipping between others far more nimbly than an adult would. Sometimes he's assertive and cheeky, but more often aghast.
And, oh, there is so much that is monstrous to make wide eyes shine like marbles: huge variety in the various species and individuals with - I see from the next book's preview - far more to come. His demonic scouts early on reminded me of the lithe, pitch-black subterranean creatures from the episode of John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR where we finally met Ben's Aunt Petunia, and Ellis does a mean, ominous glint in the eye.
Tantalisingly by the end of this first instalment, we remain in the realm of clues rather than answers.
What is Baalikar up to? Well, there's the Census in operation: what appears to be a series of experiments and appraisals by Doctor Once, particularly interested in the science of sectarian transpecies. He appears to be something of a duality himself.
Both alliances and enemies have been made: never take for granted which one is which.
Lessons have been learned, but there's been no respite as of yet during which to put them into practice.
It's suddenly all grown a lot more complicated and definitely dangerous but, no, I wouldn't say that Erick's life was over at all. I do believe that it has only just begun.
Families, young readers, we have a new winner. Books two, three and four in stock next week.