Steve Augarde, |
(David Fickling, 2004)
One of the most difficult tasks any author can take on is to take an old idea and try to make something new and fresh from it. The difficulty increases if the author chooses to create something powerful and lasting rather than trendy and short-lived. Steve Augarde succeeds on both counts with The Various.
Twelve-year-old Midge is not thrilled to be spending her summer vacation at her uncle's farm while her mother, a widowed concert violinist, is on tour with her orchestra. Worse, her cousins won't even be there for the first couple of weeks. She likes her rumpled, disorganized Uncle Brian, but she thinks that Mill Farm won't be anywhere near as interesting as staying in London.
Of course, she's wrong. While exploring an old barn, Midge discovers and rescues a small winged horse trapped under a piece of farm machinery. The little horse, named Pegs, becomes Midge's guide to the world of the equally tiny people who call themselves the Various.
Made up of five tribes -- the winged Ickri hunters, the Naiads and Wisps, farmers and fishermen, and the underground-dwelling Trogglers and Tinklers -- the Various live in the old overgrown forest on the farm, well guarded by the brambles that have grown up around the trees. They are self-sufficient and self-contained and live their lives in a way to draw the least attention from humans -- the giants they call "Gorji" -- as possible.
Pegs brings Midge into their midst, the first time a Gorji has been among them for many years. She is met with a mixture of gratitude for Pegs's rescue, suspicion and hostility, but she also has important information for them: Uncle Brian is planning to sell the land the forest is on to a real estate developer. When this goes through, the Various will be uprooted.
Later, some of the Ickri hunters, sure that Midge has taken an important artifact from the Various, track her to her farm. One of them, Scurl, has already threatened Midge's life and he plans to finish the job. He doesn't reckon on Midge's courage or her unexpected allies.
There is nothing cutesy or twee about Augarde's Various. They're a hard-working group of people doing what they need to in order to survive. Apart from Pegs, who is somewhat mystical, the Various do not practice magic; the wings on the Ickri are purely for flight; and they practice a kind of class snobbery based on assumptions about themselves. The flying Ickri feel themselves far superior to the Trogglers and Tinklers, little guessing that the Trogglers and Tinklers consider the Ickri to be "heathens."
The story is complex and thoughtful. Augarde conveys effectively the heaviness of hot summer, although the unfolding story might seem a bit slow to some readers. The action picks up when Midge finds Pegs, but doesn't sacrifice depth for the sake of plot. Midge is an appealing main character: clever, brave and cool in a crisis, yet with realistic reactions and emotions. The ending might confuse some readers, but overall, the book is a satisfying read.
Steve Augarde's The Various is creative, rich in imagery and written to be appreciated on many levels. It's a modern classic in the making.