Steve Augarde’s Touchstone Trilogy was recommended to me by a customer at the bookstore who knew I really enjoyed Colin Meloy’s recent Wildwood series. I looked them up; the cover art was gorgeous and they sounded like just the kind of kid’s fantasy I love. I have just finished the first book in the trilogy, The Various, and although I will most likely read the other two, I think I will have long breaks between readings.
The Various was written in the mid 2000’s, but the style, pacing, and themes feel like they belong to the 50s/60s era of children’s writing. This is not necessarily bad, as pretty much all my fav books come from this era. But The Various is perhaps lacking the charm and whimsy of the writing at this time – it feels a bit plain old-fashioned, but not in a hip modern way. I think kids, attuned to a snappy, action-filled and contemporary narrative, would struggle to get through it. It certainly took me a long time, and I persisted, because I hate to let a book defeat me. And though I feel like my efforts were rewarded, I can see how it would deter others.
I appreciate a lot of description, because I know, as a writer, how much you want the reader to see and understand your world as much as you do. But there is too much in The Various. Many passages get too long-winded and over-thought. It seems like we are not spared one thought from Midge’s head, about everything she encounters. This can get a bit tedious and make Midge seem precocious, while also putting the pacing off. The book is as long and languid as one of Midge’s lazy afternoons on the farm. Also, I felt at times it was maybe just a little indulgent, and came off as a little forced – I felt like, let the idea speak for itself, rather than trying to force feelings on the reader.
That being said, there is still lots to enjoy. The second half (or third?) of the book is where the pacing really steps up and the adventure starts to happen, and it is very enjoyable. I love the idea of a ‘faery’ tribe living in the overgrown woods, and thought learning about their world was interesting. And many of the secondary characters, and even the animals, were great fun. Augarde also does atmosphere well.
I hear the other two books, Celandine and Winter Wood, are the better books in the trilogy. So in a few months I shall pick those up and get reacquainted.
Book first published in 2003