#MMGM : Review of CHILDREN OF THE BLACK GLASS & Interview with author ANTHONY PECKHAM!
Brother and sister, Wren and Tell, descend from their mountain home in an effort to save their father's life. After cutting a magnificent piece of black glass from the village mine, the children's father ends up blinded. According to village custom he will be abandoned to die on the local glacier unless a cure can be found to help him heal. Unwilling to be forced to live with other villages, Tell determines to take the black glass belonging to his father and try to sell it for a cure for his father and enough supplies to last them through the winter. After his sister, Wren sneakily joins him, the two children and their stubborn mule, Rumble leave the mountain.
But neither Wren nor Tell is at all prepared for the town of Halfway and the trouble they stumble into along the way. A young girl named Rumi warns them of danger before their efforts to sell their black glass lead them to betrayal and theft and nearly being sold into slavery. Encounters with a powerful sorcerer and mercenaries land them in front of a person they never expected to see again. The children end up having to make difficult decisions about what to do in the face of a planned coup of sorts. Themes of survival, revenge, and loyalty all come into play while love and kindness are very much in short supply.
While the story feels medieval in the way the characters live, it has a rather dystopian feel in terms of the darkness and violence that permeates it. From the brutal nature of life in the mountains that leaves Wren and Tell on the verge of losing their father to the violence and death they encounter almost immediately upon entering Halfway, this book isn't going to fit every middle grade reader, especially sensitive ones. In fact I would recommend it for older middle grade readers. The twists and turns of the plot keep the reader guessing as Wren and Tell face dilemma after dilemma with a surprising amount of grit and determination despite the seemingly impossible circumstances they find themselves facing.
While the story ends on a hopeful note, it's clear that Tell and Wren and their allies still face enormous challenges, including coping with the trauma they've experienced, which will be addressed in future volumes (the book ends with a to be continued). The story is certainly a compelling one and I'm curious to see what happens in the future. But it's not a happy story in any way, the settings are dark and depressing and many of the characters behave in realistic and often appalling ways. The way the children have been raised is a bit shocking to be honest but it prepares them to face the horrors they find in Halfway. All in all, the story is compelling, the characters interesting with plenty of depth as well as strengths and weaknesses. There is much here to be pondered in terms of ethics and morality.
INTERVIEW with ANDREW PECKHAM
What is the 'story behind the story'?
“Children of the Black Glass” began years ago as a bedtime story for my own kids, while we were on a roadie and discovered a hill made of obsidian behind a far away mountain range … then learned about arrowheads made of exactly the same obsidian in sand dunes near our home, over 250 miles away. “How could that happen?” asked one of my kids. This novel started as the answer.
What has your writing journey been like?
I’ve been a working screenwriter for over three decades, so my journey has been long. This is my first novel, and I can honestly say the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. And the most satisfaction. It seems that old dogs can learn new tricks!
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Write for yourself, not some nameless agent or editor or reader or “market”. If you’re enjoying what you write, chances are other will too.
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?
I try and relate to all of my main characters, as a way of bringing them alive, even the characters who are not very nice. Rumi surprised me the most, though. I’ve really grown to love her.
What are you currently working on?
A screenplay, and book two of the Black Glass series. So, busy busy busy, which is how I like it.
Thanks Andrew for sharing with my readers a bit of your journey as you take this step into the world of middle grade literature!