The Realms Thereunder, by Ross Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2011)
The Realms Thereunder is a fun ride. Eight years ago, 13-year-olds Daniel and Freya discovered an underground world with sleeping knights and dangerous creatures. Today, Daniel lives on the streets of Oxford, England, and Freya is a university student there. And the lines between the visible and hidden world are blurring.
The novel tells both stories, in scenes clearly labelled “eight years before” and “now,” and it held my interest from the very beginning. The plot is complex but understandable, Daniel and Freya are real characters with real issues and neuroses (Daniel’s home life scarred him, and Freya hasn’t recovered from her first experience underground.)
There’s some delightfully understated humour, like Daniel’s reaction to a stone he’s supposed to put in his mouth, and there are mythical and disturbing creatures of all kinds. (Love the conversation about how to dispose of dead trolls in present-day UK.)
Naturally, most people around Daniel and Freya deny the encroaching danger, but there are a few who don’t: Scottish police officer Alex Simpson and the mysterious Oxford-based group, the Society of Concerned Individuals.
The Sleeping Knights (once awake) and their people use archaic names and titles, complete with some ancient letters that I can’t reproduce on this blog. The author is careful to have Daniel or Freya pronounce the key words phonetically the first time so readers can do the same. And there’s a pronunciation key at the back of the book if needed.
I applaud the publisher for allowing at least some of British spellings in the novel (they wimp out on manoeuvred and go for maneuvered). Words like honour, armour, colour, are a subtle way to remind readers that we’re in England. As a Canadian, I hope this is precedent for novels set in Canada.
On the other hand, this intricately-plotted story would have benefited from more careful polishing and copy-editing. We see a horse’s reigns and a creature trying to wretch, and a character exalt at the prospect of adventure, all simple spell-check issues. And there’s text with repeated words or phrases (“find purchase” three times close together) that a quick polish would fix.
These are minor things and hardly worth mention for most readers, but they’re evidence of a disturbing trend as even the big-league publishers find themselves with more work than time to do it.
The Realms Thereunder is Ross Lawhead’s first novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, quickly passed it on to my son, and am looking forward to the next in the series, The Fearful Gates, available September 2012.