There’s a pattern I’ve noticed in middle grade novels marketed to boys. It goes something like this: extremely bright but under-appreciated boy is suddenly accepted to special school, where he discovers he has unique powers/abilities. He then goes on to make a couple of key friends, confound the bullies, and save the world in truly adventurous fashion. Of course, the most popular series that follow the formula are the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson’s Olympians. One of the newest entries into this oeuvre (if you want to call it that) is Mike Wilks’ Mirrorscape.
Enter the Mirrorscape - an amazing world limited only by the artist's imagination… Fulfilling the dream of a lifetime, Melkin Womper is apprenticed to a master painter, Ambrosius Blenk. Son of a village weaver, Mel is over-awed by the master's richly colored and vividly detailed paintings. He is particularly amazed by the colors, because there are no colors back home. To have color in your life, you have to buy the Pleasure, and the sinister scarlet-robed Fifth Mystery own the rights to such Pleasures.
Soon, Mel and his new friends Ludo and Wren find themselves caught in a power struggle between the Mystery and the master. One that involves stepping through paintings into a world where the bizarre is commonplace and all logic is irrelevant. A world where angels, pyramid mazes, imaginary monsters, talking houses and - most importantly - the simple paintbrush all combine to form a hugely original and deeply compelling fantasy.
This is a thrilling adventure filled with fantastical creatures in an incredibly visual secret world.
Mirrorscape is set in one of the most interesting and truly awesome fantasy worlds I’ve read about recently. Wilks uses patently gorgeous language to describe color and other visual stimuli. The creature descriptions beg you to enlarge your imagination. And the plot is pretty interesting too – it moves at a fast clip towards adventure and everyone getting their just rewards.
And yet…the story lags at times. Why, you ask? That hero/protagonist/wunderkind – Mel – is a prig. No, really. And where the heroes of the biggest bestsellers in middle grade boy books overcome that challenge and learn humility, compassion and other ‘real person’ qualities, Mel seems static. He’s just GOOD. It’s like he pops onto the page as a perfect person and doesn’t need to grow from his adventures. Sort of annoying, you know?
Despite an inability to connect with the main character, I kept reading this one almost compulsively. It’s just vivid with description and fantasy and actually interesting side characters. The angels mentioned in the summary are rather hilarious, if I do say so myself. And I’ll be looking out for the second book, too. Weird how that works, isn’t it? Just goes to show that it’s possible to detest a character and yet love the world he’s in enough to keep going. Superb world building, Mr. Wilks!
Recommended for: fans of the middle grade boy-adventure genre and those really interested in world building, visual description and unique fantasy worlds.
This might be cheating a little, but I'm going to count it toward the Horns and Halos Reading Challenge.