Fiction Reviews


(2013) Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Drawings, Orion, 9.99, hrdbk, 266pp, ISBN 978-1-780-62149-4


There is a wolf on the cover of Tinder, a white wolf with round, fixating eyes, staring at you, the reader. Its fangs are bared not menacingly, just there, a reminder, shall we say, and this wolf towers above the rooftops of a village, or maybe even a small town. Could it be a werewolf? It may be standing up, walking on hind legs, but the rest of its body is lost among the houses, and below its two pointed fangs runs the word 'Tinder', in glowing, shining red, as if it was on fire, a slash of fire, almost welcoming, like a fireside, but beware that stray spark. This is the cover illustration by David Roberts for Sally Gardner's novel Tinder, just one of many shocking, alarming, creepy, eerie, startling illustrations that adorn the book in black and white and shades of grey, and red, blood red.

In Gardner's reworking of Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinderbox we are in The Thirty Year War with young soldier Otto Hundebiss who has survived a battle; just, barely, he may still die and join those he sees following Death who wears a tattered shroud of gold and a crown of bone wrapped with green hawthorn as he collects dead soldiers from the battlefield and takes them away to...somewhere beyond human sight, but then a magick man comes to his aid and tends to his wounds, helps him to rest and heal and gives him a pair of boots and a set of dice which will tell him the way to travel when he throws them. He must always trust the dice and go the way they want him to. That is a rule that must be followed, must, but you know what they say about rules. Otto is glad to leave the battlefield behind. He hates the war, he hates being a soldier. It was soldiers who killed his brother, who raped his sister and drove her to suicide, killed his parents too, and burned his home, and now he is one of them, and no innocent. The death of his family still haunts him, especially his sister, who visits him in his dreams.

Now he must enter a vast forest, and by chance encounter a young maiden called Safire, the love of his life, and the daughter of the powerful Duke, who is being pressed into marriage and suspected of being a werewolf, but then so is everyone, especially strangers like Otto, because there a have been a lot of deaths at the claws of wolves or perhaps by those who turn wolf when the moon is full, even the Duke's three sons have gone missing, suspected dead, murdered deep in the forest. Otto has to save her, but first he has to save himself as he becomes the pawn of the Lady of the Nail, who wants his virginity, his life, his soul, unless he can perform a simple task for her, involving three great, monstrous wolves who are kept captive and a tinderbox. Do this and he will be safe, do this and he will be rich beyond dreams, do this and he will wield such power that anything he wishes will come true, just by sparking the tinderbox, except no man can, or wield such power. Otto knows this, and knows he is doomed and tries to rid himself of the tinderbox many times, but to no avail, somehow it always comes back to him, to doom him, unless he can outwit cosmic forces and live happily ever after with Safire. Can he? That for you, dear reader, is to find out.

Tinder by the award-winning writer of I. Coriander and Maggot Moon is a page-turning joy: poetic, alarming, sad, funny, eerie, creepy, loving, tender, shocking, a story for young adults and anyone who loves fairy tales. A story wonderfully accompanied by David Roberts' illustrations of wolves of many sizes, of creepy, villainous women, of monsters and dreams. Text and drawings combining to form one perfect, recommended read.

Ian Hunter

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