Twists in the tale

Image of narwhal from Brehms Tierleben 1864–1869 (public domain)
Image of narwhal from Brehms Tierleben 1864–1869 (public domain)

Peter Dickinson The Ropemaker Macmillan Children’s Books 2002 (2001)

High fantasy, sometimes called epic fantasy, is a genre that’s demanding of the author but easily recognisable to the reader. Set in a secondary world where magic or the supernatural are accepted as real, high fantasy becomes epic when there is a sense of great and heroic deeds being done and where the canvas is grand in scale and character.

On this basis, then, Peter Dickinson’s The Ropemaker is justifiably an epic fantasy, his first in fact (Angel Isle is its sequel). Set in a world that stretches from the plateaux beyond snow-capped mountains down along a river through plains and on to an island in the open sea, the novel unfolds through the eyes of young Tilja Urlasdaughter (the ‘j’ in her name I suspect is pronounced like ‘y’ in ‘yes’, as in Scandinavian languages). Her Valley home, between the mountains and the Forest, is changing: the glaciers are melting, venturing among the forest trees is becoming dangerous and the sense of a magic gluing things together is disappearing. There are likely to be incursions from the horsemen beyond the mountain pass and the armies of the Empire to the south. What’s to be done?

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