November 03, 2005


The Edge Chronicles 6: Vox. By Paul Stewart. Illustrations by Chris Riddell.  David Fickling Books. $12.95.

     This start of the second half of the 10-book Edge Chronicles series begins with a bang and ends with another – literally.  Darker, denser and more complex than any of the five books that preceded it, Vox is a thoroughly satisfying novel despite a serious flaw at its center – one quite obvious enough for readers ages 10-12, the target audience, to notice.

     Vox Verlix, who gives his name to the book, is its linchpin – but not a major character in the action.  He can scarcely act at all, being hugely obese and constantly befuddled by a special drink prepared by his in-house herb master and poisoner, a goblin named Hestera Spikesap.  As Rook Barkwater, Librarian Knight and the book’s hero, comments when he sets eyes on Vox for the first time, halfway through the novel, “So it was true what they said.  Vox Verlix, the greatest engineer and architect there had ever been, was a bitter, broken creature.”

     But the remnants of a fine mind remain in Vox’s grotesque body.  Vox is obsessed with grand plans for revenge against the goblins, shrykes and Guardians of Night who among them took over all his greatest architectural feats and stole from him the power that he had himself stolen from Cowlquape, the Most High Academe.

     All this sounds both complex and abstruse, but it does not come across that way as Paul Stewart pulls readers ever more deeply into the world of The Edge, a strange geography in which a giant promontory literally juts over the end of the world like a ship’s prow.  Peopled – or, more properly, “creatured” – by a wide variety of fascinating beings, it is a place of loyalty, friendship and scholarship, its primary heroes the librarians guarding barkscrolls containing all the world’s knowledge.  It is also a place of theft, torture, betrayal, murderous monsters and seemingly unending cruelty.  Vox is set at a time of growing heat and stifling humidity that may herald a Great Storm that will cleanse the most corrupt part of The Edge – or destroy it.  When the storm will occur, and what it will do, are known only to Vox, the consequences of whose life are about to catch up both with him and with the entire population of the region.  We not only read about but also see what is going on, thanks to the outstanding, super-detailed illustrations of Chris Riddell, which are even better-wrought, more numerous and more fully integrated into the story here than in earlier Edge books.

     Thus, Vox is an overwhelming success despite a plot point that cheats.  Rook is brought into Vox’s decaying castle stronghold, the Palace of Statues, after being trapped by goblin guards and sold to Hestera in the slave market at a high price – a price he fetches specifically because he is a Librarian Knight, possessing much knowledge on many topics.  But it turns out that Hestera’s slaves are needed only for back-breaking manual labor – and their minds are wiped clean by a power-mad ghostwaif before they start to work.  Rook is thin, very weak and severely injured when bought; there is no reason whatsoever for Hestera to pay a huge price for him, then wipe out the mind for which the high price was paid (though Rook, of course, finds a way out of the ghostwaif’s clutches).  It is necessary to overlook this central flaw to enjoy this book fully.  Fortunately, there is so much wonder here, so wonderfully presented, that overlooking it, far from being difficult, is an absolute pleasure.

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