Long ago, meteors crashed into Earth and caused a climatic disaster, with great swathes of land scoured by fire and flood. But somehow, deep underground, a few pockets of Striggs managed to survive…
In Chris Mousdale’s first full-length novel, A Place of Stone and Darkness is a dystopian story which follows two young Striggs: adventurous Ellee and her inventor brother Sidfred. Striggs are bird-like creatures with plumes of downy feathers, but they became flightless when they were forced to seek a new home. On every brow, each Strigg has a diamond-bright lapyriss headlight called a ‘spangle’ which help to guide the Strigg through their labyrinth maze of tunnels. The Striggs live by the harmonious mantra: ‘be one, be all, be everything’. Community is everything in their world.
The Strigg leaders insist upon only one rule: They must never be seen by a Toppa.
The novel opens with Ellee Meddo preparing for her Spangletime, a formal ceremony that ushers a young Strigg into adulthood. But Ellee would much rather go exploring than receive her spangle. On a journey into the unexplored regions, she discovers a young Toppa boy trapped in a well. Enlisting eccentric Sidfred’s help to hide the boy, the pair try to avoid ‘Blue’s’ discovery at all costs. Blue is the first human to have seen a Strigg in centuries.
When Blue’s existence is uncovered by the Strigg leaders, it is decided that he should be returned Uptop in order to protect the community.
While the first half of the novel progresses slowly, the pace picks up with the adventure to the Uptop. The discovery of what lies Uptop is just as much a shock to the reader as it is to Ellee, Sidfred and Strigg leader Kass. Set far in the future, Toppas are almost extinct and the world is vastly different to the one we know today. Mousdale’s artistic eye shows in his descriptions of landscapes: ‘There were broken columns and wide ribbons of concrete, pancaked flat where they had fallen. Once roads had soared up and over, in elaborate suspended superstructures. Now it was all ruins … It was a terrible vision’.
When the mission to return Blue goes terribly wrong, Ellee, Sidfred and Kass find themselves in mortal danger. Their entire community is at risk unless they can pull off a dangerous move that could have disastrous consequences.
A Place of Stone and Darkness is beautifully produced. An award-winning illustrator, Mousdale has crafted several stunning illustrations to accompany the hardbacked novel. The illustrated maps and diagrams of the Striggs’ underground land add an extra layer of realism to the world. Every character has a portrait, and readers will enjoy spotting their favourite characters in the coloured plates dispersed throughout the 400-page book. A helpful glossary of Strigg terms show how much work has gone into building the impressive land of the Striggs.
A Place of Stone and Darkness is an engaging story, has brilliant characters, and shares messages about the environment, human kindness and trusting your friends. With similarities to The Hobbit, this novel is perfect for young readers (10+) who enjoy fantasy and steampunk adventures. The surprise ending takes the tale in an unexpected and exciting direction, and while the formal vocabulary of the Striggs does take some time to get used to, the world-building is incredible. I can guarantee that once you are wrapped up in Ellee and Sidfred’s adventure, you won’t be able to put this book down.
Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe
A Place of Stone and Darkness
By Chris Mousdale
Published by Penguin Random House New Zealand