Beckwood Brae – The Chronicles of the Corriian Wars


David H. Webb

Anomalos Publishing House

This is a ‘boy-book’.

David Webb makes no apology for it, merely pointing out in the preface the enormous influence of Jane Austen’s Emma on his choice of subject matter. As a teenager in his last year at an all-boys school he had been compelled to make a study of a spoilt heiress who spends four hundred and sixty pages trying—unsuccessfully—to marry off a young friend. Fortunately, no lasting trauma seems to have been resulted.

However, there are moments when I wondered what the book might have been like, had things been otherwise.

I don’t like to compare grapes with cherries so I always like to summon a jury of peers in my mind in order to judge a book. But this is so unashamedly a ‘boy-book’, I’m a little at a loss.

Prince Caspian is one of my least favourite stories. It’s as far down in my estimation as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is up. The movie, however, plumbed all new depths. Battle followed battle followed battle until I was worn out with battle fatigue, long before the single combat I knew was coming at the climax.

But where was the joyous romp through Narnia that was one of the highlights of the book? Where was the riot of singing and dancing and all that ‘girly stuff’? Tossed aside apparently, in the curious belief that another action-packed battle was just what was needed to liven up the story.

Pace, it’s all about pace. Another chase or another battle doesn’t cut it when it comes to pace. Both scriptwriters and novelists need to pay heed to this paradox. Sometimes less is more.

Unfortunately all the things I disliked about the cinematic version of Prince Caspian apply to Beckwood Brae. There’s a battle or two too many. There’s nothing really stands in the way of true love (except, of course, a battle) and so the romance is sweet rather than bittersweet, pleasant rather than poignant, heartwarming rather than heartwrenching.

I think it’s a boy thing. And it might work in a movie to cut sharply from one scene to another, but it’s really disconcerting in a novel to transition, without warning, from one character in one location to another in an entirely different location all in the space of a paragraph. I don’t know whether this kind of dislocation is another ‘boy thing’, but I don’t feel it works on paper. Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often.

Now, if you’re a boy, you almost certainly think this is the sort of sharp and snappy book for you. And it probably is. It’s got battles! Heaps of them! Sieges and skirmishes and sea battles and sorcery contests and snipers and strange, savage struggles.

The Southern End is home to Tom the roper, Norri the nutter (that’s one who collects forest nuts, naturally, not one who is out of his tree) and their friends. Something strange is stirring in the woods and when the friends go to investigate, they find a platoon of Corriian soldiers emerging from an underground river. The scouts are accompanied by grimulves, fierce wolves from the icy north which, when inhabited by dark spirits, can not only speak but exude a terrible fear. While his friends race to warn their loved ones, Norri is rescued by Maari, a girl of the secretive tree people, the Driadora.

Norri is given a prophecy which encourages him to follow the underground river to its source in a lake on the other side of the mountains. Taken prisoner, he is eventually marched to Corriamar, the capital of the Empire. Meantime, the surprise attack of the Corriian soldiers and the grimulves fails due to Tom’s warning. With his friends, he goes north to assist the king.

Desperate battle follows even more desperate battle follows still more desperate battle as the kingdom is vastly outnumbered by the Corriian attackers who are not only superbly-disciplined soldiers but are assisted by the relentless grimulves and magic-wielding sorcerors. Only simple prayers and coverings of love stand between the defenders and complete annihilation.

Norri, however, is the key to change. With one word, he breaks the Kinbracher Spell, undermining the entire foundation of the Corriian Empire. The fortunes of battle change abruptly as do the fortunes of the men of the Southern End. But as the book closes, a new and even more vengeful darkness begins to descend. I think it’s a pretty safe bet: fans of Beckwood Brae can look forward to all-new and all-different battles in Book Two of The Chronicles of the Corriian Wars.

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