Sally Gardner, ill. David Roberts
A truly amazing retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, ‘The Tinder Box’, turning it into a nightmare experience, as seen through the eyes of a war-damaged soldier of the seventeenth century. Gardner uses all the key elements of the original but richly embellishes and re-realises them. The dogs of the three chambers – rather docile, obliging creatures in Andersen’s original – become all-conquering wolves here.
As well as the tinder box, in this book the soldier receives a set of dice which have a significant role in the story. The princess of Andersen’s copper castle – named Safire by Gardner – appears briefly and life-alteringly to Otto right at the start of the story, as he is making his escape from the battlefield.
The middle part of the novel, when Otto is holed-up at an inn, yearning to be reunited with red-headed Safire, reminded me somewhat of Andrés Neuman’s Travellers Of The Century which, for anyone who knows that book, will signal the fact that this is no ordinary teenage werewolf fantasy.
The quality of the writing is superb and is a joy to read aloud. That said, it’s a shame that copy-editing and proof-reading did not pick up a couple of instances of comma-splicing, a particularly jarring example appearing near the start of Chapter Thirty-One, just as the novel is building to its climax.
David Roberts’ atmospheric illustrations are primarily in black-and-white, with judicious use of red from time to time. They have been perfectly placed and page-set by the book’s designers.
This beautifully-produced hardback would make a splendid gift for mature 12+
In an Author’s Note at the end of the book, Gardner explains why she chose to set the novel in the period of the Thirty Years War, whilst her primary inspiration was a series of conversations she had with soldiers recently returned from the war in Afghansitan.
Certain to be shortlisted for several awards.