01/02/2010. Contributed by Vikki Green
pub: Corgi. 395 page paperback. Price: £5.99 (UK), $11.95 CAN). ISBN: 978-0-552-55126-7.
check out website: www.kidsatrandomhouse.co.uk/edgechronicles
'The Winter Knights' by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell picks up Quint's story soon after the death of his mentor, Linius Pallitax. Without a mentor on Sanctaphrax, he may well be destitute. His friend, Maris, has gone to Undertown with her less than kind Guardian, Heft, and Dacia Vespius, a Leaguesman in the League of Wicktwisters and Waxdippers. It soon becomes obvious from her letters that her Guardians are only interested in the money her father left her and in the intrigues that will soon overwhelm Sanctaphrax.
Quint soon finds his mentor in the shape of the Professor of Light, one of the Twin Most High Academes. He is joined by the Professor of Darkness's protégé, Vilnix. They enter the Knights Academy as squires and have to work their way towards becoming Knight Academic or Academics at Arms.
Quint has entered the Academy at a time of great upheaval. The weather is deteriorating rapidly, it is now constant winter with heavy snowfall every single day. Wood is scarce as every single twig has to go into the huge burners keeping the great rock of Sanctaphrax heavy enough to float at a stable height. The colder it gets, the more buoyant the rock becomes. This also affects the pilot rocks keeping the sky pirate ships and the storm-chasing ships aloft. High Professor Hax Vostillix is convinced the unnatural winter is a Great Storm, the lightning from such a storm will provide Stormphrax the substance usually used to keep Sanctaphrax stable. He is planning a coup d'état in order to be able to send Knight after Knight after the stormphrax. All the voyages have failed. Hax has removed his rival professors with the help of the Gatekeepers and is in a position of absolute power at the Academy. Soon however it becomes clear the real power behind the throne is the Gatekeeper Daxiel Xaxis.
Vilnix has also worked his way through the academy but has proven to be a nasty piece of work. His only desire is to rise to supreme power on Sanctaphrax and he doesn't care how he does it. He loathes Quint with a vengeance as he is all Vilnix has ever wanted to be: popular, charming, good at his work and talented. In the course of his machinations, he extorts money from Maris under a vile pretence and lures her to Sanctaphrax in order to further his nasty schemes.
Quint works his way through the Academy and is appointed a Knight Academic, his friend Phin becomes an Academic at Arms. He has also acquired two other allies, Stope, a grey goblin with a talent for metalwork and Raffix, a Knight a year ahead of him. Phin uncovers some information from one of the deposed professors and using that information the four of them and Maris sail out on a hazardous journey to rectify the winter.
'Winter Knights' is aimed at young adults and its cheerfully baroque world is a delight. Its details of how the world and its inhabitants work are vivid and sometimes cheerfully disgusting.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I did get a bit bogged down with all the politicking between the Gatekeepers and the Knights at Arms. The final solution to the eternal winter did seem a little understated as did Quint and his friends' involvement, but on the whole, absorbing, fun and a riot. The illustrations, as usual are worth the price of admission.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA