The Cloud Horse Chronicles is a new fantasy series by much-loved author-illustrator Chris Riddell.
The first in the series, Guardians of Magic, sets the scene and follows the adventures of Zam, Phoebe and Bathsheba, three children who come across bespoke gifts crafted from the magical wood of the Forever Tree. Each of the three children belongs to a different town within the kingdom of Thrynne, which is brilliantly brought to life throughout the book with Chris Riddell’s incredibly detailed sketches and illustrated maps.
Magic is under threat in the kingdom of Thrynne and anybody tapping into the ancient magic of the Forever Tree is immediately in danger. Powerful villains keep magic at bay in each town in order to pursue their own selfish agendas. A king rat called Tiberius-Tiberius terrorises Zam’s home of Troutwine. A power-hungry Clockmaker with an army of mechanical tin-men rules Phoebe’s town of Nightingale. Euphemia Goldencurls, a professional Princess wishing to keep alive the lucrative business of slaying giants, manipulates the townsfolk of Bathsheba’s tree-house town of Beam. In between the three towns stands the Great Wood - said to be full of fantastical forest creatures - and the boulder-filled landscape of the Tumbledowns, which is home to creatures who are outcasts and misfits.
Destined to fight back and keep the Forever Tree’s magic alive, the three children leave their homes and, armed with their magical objects (a runcible spoon that creates living gingerbread creatures, a cello that speaks and dreams and a glowing worpel sword), they come together to fight the villains who wrongly threaten the tree's sacred magic for their own dark desires. With help from the beautiful cloud horses, who live in the forever tree and grant wishes, the children evade danger and use their courage and wit to embark upon a unique magical quest.
The generous illustrations make this middle-grade fantasy really special, with character sketches, maps and building cross-sections that both delight and inform. Riddell’s distinctive pencil-sketch style provides spectacular detail that gives his magical world credibility and layers of interest. Dotted throughout the story’s narrative and pictures are familiar story characters - the Pied Piper, Puss-in-Boots, porridge-loving bears, an Owl-and-Pussycat duo and an old woman who lives in a shoe casually cameo alongside a cast of more original magical folk. The show-stopping page is a full-colour illustration of the towering giant Olaf Cloudscapper, which folds out to impress the sense of his enormity compared to the human characters.
Guardians of Magic is an enjoyable start to what promises to be a brilliant fantasy series and I am looking forward to seeing how the stories build in the next instalments.
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