Sarah Silverwood

Nowhere Chronicles, Book 2

ISBN:  978-0-575-09580-9

Gollancz

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The Traitor’s Gate is book two of the Nowhere Chronicles, following on from The Double-Edged Sword. Like the first, this is an outstanding young adult novel which deserves a wide audience, including of older readers.

In volume one, Finmere Tingewick Smith – Fin to his friends – discovered that there are doors between worlds, including the Somewhere (our world) and the Nowhere. The orphaned Fin is not sure of his origins – no one is – but it becomes clear that he is critical to the survival of both worlds. Much intrigue and action followed.

In volume two, the story picks up some months later. Although Fin and his friends thought they had, perhaps, saved the worlds and fulfilled the Prophecy, there are ominous signs of trouble. The Story Holder has not yet been able to reclaim all of the Five Eternal Stories that hold the worlds together. In the Nowhere, something is wandering the streets, attacking people and leaving them mad and dangerous. And in the Somewhere, a crack has appeared in the Prophecy table.

Fin and his two friends, Joe and Christopher, have not been able to reclaim much sense of normality since their adventures in volume one. Joe is stuck in the Nowhere; Christopher is rebelling against things he learnt in volume one; and Fin – well, Fin still hasn’t found answers to any of his important questions. This time they fling themselves into adventure with less abandon, but they have even less chance of avoiding the pull of fate than they did initially. They’re all in too deep now.

One of the lovely strengths of this novel, for me, was the depth of the moral issues that the boys confront. Very little is black and white. There’s a lot of grey, and some really tough issues for them to wrestle with. Some are very clear to the reader; of COURSE Christopher should tell his friends what he’s discovered. But one of the strengths of Silverwood’s writing is that she makes it easy to understand why her characters are conflicted, and don’t always do what is so “obviously” the right thing.

Silverwood doesn’t take the easy path with her plotting. There are several moments in this novel which will hit the reader right between the eyes. The intended young adult audience should generally be well able to handle these issues and events, but they may be challenged by them too. Which I suspect may well be part of Silverwood’s goal. This isn’t a preachy novel by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe she’d be happy to feel her audience went away to think about a few things.

The overarching plot of the trilogy is significantly advanced in this novel. Like the first, there’s a strong mix of action and thoughtfulness. We get answers to some of the big questions raised in the first novel – not all, of course – and some of those answers will startle you and raise even more questions.

As with the first novel, characterisation was a huge strength. Each character is an individual, a person you’d want to meet (even if only to slap in some cases), and someone who is well rounded. The people we met in the first novel have generally changed somewhat in this one. Realistically, the old men who have been caught up in this world and adventure for years haven’t changed very much at all. In equally realistic contrast, the four teenagers (I include Mona from the Nowhere as well as Fin, Christopher and Joe) have changed a lot. All are reacting in various ways to the events of The Double Edged Sword, and their behaviour and attitudes have changed as a result. We understand all these changes, and we understand how they influence the choices and actions of each person as the novel progresses.

This is a fantasy novel, with a very well worked out and internally consistent magic system and world. Both worlds – the Somewhere and the Nowhere – come alive and are easy to believe in. They are populated by real people who will engage the interest and empathy of readers, and the worlds feel just so concrete. The population believes in them utterly, lives in them comfortably, and – well, without lots of exposition Silverwood creates an original but believable environment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was eager to read it after the first, and it more than lived up to my expectations. It does end on more of a cliffhanger than the first novel, but I was fine with that – I can’t imagine anyone reading the first two novels and not wanting to know what will be revealed in the third. Silverwood is a confident and capable writer who knows how to draw a reader in and then sweep them along in the story with clear and effective prose.

I would recommend The Traitor’s Gate to a very wide audience. Young adult readers may find some of the issues raised a little more challenging than adult readers, but both will be caught up in the action and the emotions of the characters. This is an excellent novel both in itself and as part of a trilogy, although readers who haven’t read the first may find some of the plot background a little tricky to follow.