Rating : 61/100
Author : Douglas Hill
Genre : Children’s Fantasy
Date of First Publication : 1987
Continuing directly on from ‘Blade of the Poisoner‘ this concludes Douglas Hill’s fantasy journey of dark magic, foul demons and heroic friendship. The break between the books is more or less seamless, bar a brief recap regarding the four adventurers Jarral, Mandra, Archer and Scythe and what their current objective is – to enter the fortress of ‘he who shall not be named’ and rescue their wizardly friend Cryl, and maybe even take his captor down a peg or two. In many ways it resembles the work of Tolkien – central character Jarral’s innocence and his loyalty to his friends are deemed his greatest advantage, they intend to strike at the heart of the dark lord in his kingdom beyond the mountains where nothing grows, and sinister powers will force them to travel under those same mountains where they will meet an ancient and deadly foe that dwells there, literally, in the shadows.
It also follows very much the same style and pattern as its predecessor with contrasting moments of calm and then instant peril, Jarral constantly fighting his nerves against an ever increasing array of assailants, and everything leading up to a grand finale. Most of these things are significantly more tedious than they were the first time around, in fact the majority of the one hundred and eighty page novel only really has two or three memorable moments in it until the very end, where the climatic confrontation is suitably dramatic and satisfying enough to forgive much of what led up to it. There’s not a great deal more in the way of characterisation as the focus is primarily on action, but the motif of facing down your fears is continued and again with the viewpoint primarily twelve year old Jarral’s, it ought to be a fairly solid read for kids of that age group – in fact even the great Red Dragon himself had to look up a word at one point : lambent, roughly meaning graceful, soft or light, such as ‘the lambent arcs of candlelight caressed her delicate skin’ … my stories aren’t usually suitable for younglings.