Lloyd Alexander

Subterranean Press, Eos/HarperCollins / 272 pages / May 2002

ISBN: 1931081549

Penguin Putnam is one of the most respected names in publishing, so when they announce the addition of a new imprint, it is front page news in the book world. When they reveal that this new imprint will be a fantasy line for young adults, you have a guaranteed lock on everyone’s attention in the genre. But, the proof is in the product, right? Well, if the first four books of the new imprint are representative of the entire catalogue, start lining up for your copies now.

Take Lloyd Alexander’s marvelous Westmark. It was reasonably well-appreciated upon its initial publication in 1981, if you consider winning the American Book Award and a raft of others sufficient recognition. Firebird should be praised for bringing this non-stop adventure back to a new audience of children and adults.

That is one of the worst praiseworthy features of this imprint: the books are aimed at younger readers, but are every bit as enjoyable for adults, and neither side feels condescended to along the way.

Westmark takes us into the beginning of a trilogy that follows the adventures of Theo, a young man who was content to serve as a printer’s devil until the tragic night when the soldiers of a corrupt Chief Minister killed his master and set Theo on the run for his life. There is no one for Theo to turn to for help but the duo of flim-flam artists whose playbill was the very printing job that started the trouble. Along the way, they are joined by a mysterious street girl who is more than she seems.

Theo and his companions will have to use all their wiles just to keep out of their enemy’s hands and keep themselves alive. Often, that involves doing things that conflict with Theo’s sense of honour, but there is truly little he can do to change things.

Alexander, as always, delivers a sound and taut storyline that will keep readers glued to the page from the first paragraph, no matter what their age. Parents can feel safe seeing Westmark in their children’s hands. Maybe they can even read it, too, and have something to talk about with their children. Or, they may take the bold step or reading with their child and share something that will remain with both of you forever.

However you decide to enjoy it, you had best do it quickly; the other two volumes of the trilogy are on the way from Firebird. You’ll want to keep up with the adventures of Theo and his bizarre band, because there is so much more to come, and Theo and the rest of the cast are characters worth watching.

And, from what I’ve seen so far, Firebird is an imprint worth keeping an eye on. Quality material has a way of rising to the top. We’ll see what happens here, but I feel safe betting on this newcomer. Give it a try and see what you think.