The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Bonus review time. Yaaay! As I’m currently in the process of moving house, please enjoy this review of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

The Spiderwick Chronicles are a series of five fantasy stories, aimed at middle grade readers: The Field Guide (2003), The Seeing Stone (2003), Lucinda’s Secret (2003), The Ironwood Tree (2004) and The Wrath of Mulgarath (2004). The series focuses on three children as they discover a mysterious book about faeries in their Great Aunt’s home. Following the critical acclaim of this series, a sequel titled Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles was published between 2007 and 2009 and ran for three further novels.

Following their parent’s divorce, Jared, Simon and Mallory Grace are forced to move away from the city to live in a dilapidated country mansion, previously owned by their Great Aunt Lucinda. The house is filthy, rotting and filled with strange noises and the children want nothing more than to leave, however things start to change when Jared uncovers a secret room.

The room turns out to be the library of their Great Great Uncle Arthur and inside one of the books they find a riddle. On solving this puzzle, Jared finds himself in possession of his Great Great Uncle’s most treasured possession – a book titled Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. The book contains notes and drawings of the many different faeries that live in and around the house and using the book Jared manages to identify that most of the house’s problems are caused by a brownie by the name of Thimbletack.

Thimbletack warns the Grace siblings that the journal is dangerous. The faeries are worried about the secrets that the book contains and will do anything to ensure that it does not fall into human hands. Some of the beings wish to get hold of the book in order to destroy it, while others would use it to further their own evil ends. The children must make a decision about what to do with the journal, and quickly, before they meet a horrible fate at the hands of the faeries…

Before I start to talk about the books, I thought I should just mention the illustrations. While I don’t always mention covers and illustrations in my reviews (this site’s all about the stories) there is no denying that in this particular series they are divine. Each of the books contain many full page illustrations of the characters and different faeries and they are all wonderfully detailed. This is one of the rare occasions where I would recommend buying the hardcover books as they are works of art and look so good on the shelf.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I guess it’s time to talk about the stories themselves. I have a bit of a soft spot for faerie stories and was not disappointed here. For a series aimed at middle grade readers, this one was surprisingly epic. It is certainly written with its target audience in mind as it is light and easy to read (a confident reader could certainly devour one of the books in a single sitting). With the exception of The Wrath of Mulgarath, all of the stories are largely self-contained and focus on the Grace children encountering a different race or being. For example, The Seeing Stone focuses on Jared and Mallory trying to rescue Simon from a band of goblins while they are forced to outwit and group of elves in Lucinda’s Secret. The stories could be read in isolation but they all contribute to the large overarching plot which concludes in the final novel, as the children try to protect the journal from an evil ogre called Mulgarath.

Yet the jaded adult in me feels the need to critique The Spiderwick Chronicles due to the length of the novels. This series could have easily been condensed into one or two books. Yes, I do understand the idea that releasing the stories in smaller instalments makes them more accessible to younger readers but it still feels like it’s a bit of a money spinner (why charge £6.99 when you could charge £34.95?). The series is very good on the whole but it still does feel as though it’s been stretched out. The Ironwood Tree is the worst offender in this regard as it is a bit of a rehash of The Seeing Stone (only rescuing Mallory from dwarves instead of Simon from goblins). The only real plot point that it brings to the series is the first terrifying glimpse of Mulgarath.

I was also a little disappointed with the ending of the series. The final book is, in my opinion, one of the best. It is utterly gripping throughout and contains some of the very best action sequences (as well as ensuring that every child plays their part) but after this the story just kind of petered out. I won’t spoil it for you but I’ll just say that it addresses a major plot point rather briefly over the last couple of pages which I would have liked to have seen developed further. This is an entirely personal gripe, I know, but I was just left so disappointed by the final fate of one very important character.

However, all complaints aside, it is clear that the stories are absolutely brimming with imagination. A vast array of mythological creatures appear over the course of the series ranging from childhood favourites (elves and dwarves) to ones that are far less common (phouka). Even the common creatures are given a rather unique twist to make them seem really original and memorable. The dwarves are obsessed with making their own perfect world out of metal and clockwork while the goblins are born toothless and so make their own teeth from any sharp objects that they can find. The stories may be a little scary in places for very young children but it’s the good kind of frightening that kids love, characterised by monsters that are threatening but easily outwitted by smart children and ugly/cute critters that sometimes do very gross things (I love Hogsqueal but get the impression he might not be every parent’s cup of tea).

In terms of characterisation, the series was particularly strong. I love all three of the protagonists as they felt like real kids, brave when they needed to be but still prone to making rash decisions. Each of them had a very different voice and so they worked very well as a group. Mallory was the tough older sister, physically fit and providing most of the muscle (making a nice change as this is traditionally a boy’s role in fiction). Simon was the sensitive one who was good with animals, leading to his eventual taming of a griffin which in turn becomes vital in their infiltration of Mulgarath’s lair. Jared, the main character, is a troublemaker who nobody believed (even when he’s telling the truth). He receives the best character development of them all as he slowly comes to terms with his parent’s divorce and becomes a more responsible individual through protecting his siblings from the faeries.

Yet it’s the faerie characters that really steal the show. Thimbletack the brownie and Hogsqueal the hobgoblin are just brilliant characters – lovable, tricksy and utterly memorable. Yet my favourite character of all was Mulgarath. He’s just so unique. Huge and monsterous, yet at the same time oddly eloquent and refined. He maintains a threatening air throughout and is an imposing final enemy for the children to fight, superior to all those that came before in both strength and cunning. It’s a shame that he only really appears in the final two books as I would have liked to have seen much more of him.

Well, this has just been a brief glimpse at a truly wonderful series. It’s imaginative and beautifully illustrated, containing strong characters and a menagerie of unique faerie characters. While the series is aimed at children, I think that there is still a lot to like here for both young teens and adults as well. The Spiderwick Chronicles is truly a must-have for every fantasy collection.

The Field Guide can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

The Seeing Stone can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

Lucinda’s Secret can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

The Ironwood Tree can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

The Wrath of Mulgarath can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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