HORRORS OF… is a biweekly series exploring the overlooked darker elements of well-known media. CONTENT WARNING for mentions of death and gore. SPOILER WARNING for several The Edge Chronicles books.
So far in Horrors Of… every subject I’ve covered has a television or movie adaptation. This week I’ll be delving into a series of books that have so far remained on the page. While The Edge Chronicles received much success in publication, I don’t think it has garnered enough attention to be adapted into a series (I would love to be proven wrong of course!) It comprises four trilogies and several additional books, all penned by Paul Stewart with art by Chris Riddell, taking place in the world of The Edge—A massive floating continent with many peoples, cultures and mythical creatures.
An important concept is the use of “float stones” to both allow skyships to travel and the foundation upon which the scholarly city of Sanctaphrax sits, tethered to the surface. Float stones grow and become increasingly buoyant with size, so the city is always in danger of breaking loose and rising into the sky forever. The chains holding it down frequently break and need replacement. And they are massive–it’s a regular occurrence for townspeople underneath (which is fittingly named Undertown) to be crushed to death.
Each trilogy follows a different character and the series spans over 600 years as technology advances, societies change, and nature both dies and heals. I’ve always been obsessed with the concept of sky pirates and floating islands (my favourite video game is Skies of Arcadia) so I read and reread these books many times. Some of the sections were…quite heavy, for a recommended age of 8-12. A major part of this is the extremely detailed, grisly illustrations. Everything in this world is gnarled, aged and feels very much “lived-in”.
While the books are made with younger audiences in mind, I think there’s a lot to take from stories like these. And as always, I wouldn’t be talking about it if it didn’t have a lasting impact on me. The art especially caught my attention as I loved to draw. I even owned The Edge Chronicles Maps, a small supplemental book of maps and information on each area of the world.
As can be the case with multiple books releasing in a series, prequels dropping at a later date are common. The first published trilogy follows Twig, while the second is a prequel trilogy about his father, Quint. Many adventures mentioned by Quint’s crew are detailed and “Quint is a bad father and why he has issues” is explained through his backstory.
A common phrase throughout the series is “oh, Gloamglozer” similar to “oh god, how did I get into this mess”. It is both used as a prayer and a curse. The Gloamglozer is thought of as a myth, a horrible creature that is a deceiver, a shape-shifting trickster who feeds on fear. Its true form is a horned demon, cloaked in a black garment and floating above the ground with menacing claws. It has no actual physical strength and tends to lure people to their deaths after draining their energy. This nearly happens to Twig before he is saved by a giant bird. Unfortunately, that very spirit was created by his father, Quint.
In his youth, Quint was the apprentice of the High Scholar of Sanctaphrax, assisting him with research and running errands. One of these involved a secret, ancient laboratory deep within the catacombs of the City’s rock itself–and inside this place, he found a creature.
Covered in scars, emaciated and with huge pleading eyes, it begs him for help. What is he to do but comply? His master has been torturing this poor being, all alone and helpless. Imagine Gollum at his most pathetic and you’ll get a good idea of what it looks like.
After they hide it in the Scholar’s house, it begins to undermine both Quint and his friend Maris–gaining strength from deceit. It learns of the Gloamglozer from books and takes on this form, burning down the palace and placing a curse on Quint. It’s a wonderful and horrible design and learning this backstory adds an extra layer of horror.
(The catacombs are also terrifying, with fluctuating pathways so you can get trapped and die. It’s also the hunting grounds of a giant red blob that sucks out your brains.)
The Death of the Banderbear
Twig’s first book, Beyond the Deepwoods, could just be called “Twig nearly dies every day”. He almost gets eaten alive no less than three times in this book, not to mention potentially drowning, crushed, being murdered, falling off a cliff, and escaping from a forest fire. This kid is like 10.
After being raised by wood trolls, Twig leaves to find his father and figure out his path in life. Unfortunately, he disobeys the most important rule from his upbringing: don’t stray off the path. Everything in these woods can kill you so he’s constantly running for his life or being saved by strangers. He moves from place to place, realizing he doesn’t fit in or encountering dangerous wildlife. One time he’s nearly consumed by a Bloodoak, a Sarlaac-like pit that only spits him out when Twig’s fur coat gets stuck in its throat.
One day Twig stumbles upon a Banderbear shrieking in pain. He helps it by removing an infected tooth and forever wears it as an amulet after this incident. He and the Banderbear become friends, with the bear teaching him which berries are safe to eat and enjoy each other’s company.
During one of these outings, the Banderbear becomes terrified, running from a predator as fast as he can while carrying Twig. The threat is wig-wigs: blood-thirsty Tribbles, forest piranhas. Consuming everything in their path the only escape is climbing a tree and waiting for them to move along. Banderbears…cannot club trees though. While the bear places Twig out of the wig-wigs reach, it then looks up at him with tears in its eyes before it is torn to shreds.
The Twilight Woods
The woods of the Edge are vast, separated into several sections. The one mentioned previously is farther back (hence the name Deepwoods). As we get closer to Undertown the atmosphere changes. Soft pollen that sparkles in the light blows through these trees. It is dead quiet. Nothing lives here by choice. It is the Twilight Woods.
Besides float-stones, the other hyper-important resource for the people of the Edge is stormphrax: solid lightning. Storms pass over the trees, sometimes depositing a single bolt of lightning which Stormchasers hurry to harvest before the effects of the woods take hold. Several years after the events of Deepwoods, Twig is now a member of Quint’s crew on a mission to collect stormphrax. They get caught in the storm with everyone except Quint bailing out. The captain reminds, and he and the storm head out over the open sky are presumed lost.
Particles of stormphrax float through the air, giving both a state of immortality and removing pain but in the process robbing those affected by making them lose their memories and sense of self until they are a walking skeleton. When Twig and his crew crash here, two of their numbers are lost to the woods. The Professor of Light–a kindly Gandalf-like figure traveling with them–breaks his neck. Due to the stormphrax he is in no pain and stumbles around holding his head upright until they tie his face to a stick to keep it straight. It’s comedic and awful.
Once they leave the woods the pain returns and the Professor soon dies, his body claimed by the muck of the Mire. Twig, by this point, having lost the majority of his crew and friends, is having a pretty hard time!!
The Mire and Screed Toe-Taker
Between Sanctaphrax, Undertown and the Deepwoods is an area known as the Mire. It’s a huge bog of biological waste from the cities, full of poisonous gases and death pits. If your skyship breaks down over the Mire, you’re as good as dead. There are guides to lead merchants and travellers through the treacherous landscape but you’re more than likely to die before you find one, or if you do, you might be gutted by them.
Screed Toe-Taker lives up to his name. He’s a former academic of Sanctaphrax that went Stormchasing and never returned. Still determined to finish his mission, he murders anyone he comes across and cuts off their feet. For you see the bits of stormphrax that collect between people’s toes are mushed down and now become phraxdust, an extremely valuable and highly sought after resource. Improperly mixed the storm particles will explode in your face, so this is an easier—albeit more gruesome—method of obtaining it.
Twig has a duel with Screed and finally brings his murderous spree to an end (and gets a bunch of stormphrax and phraxdust for good measure!) They fix up Screed’s land-locked ship and sail home to glory.
Thankfully, after Twig’s books, The Great Mire Road is built above the muck and makes the trade route safer, for a time. Then it was taken over by the Shrykes…
The matriarchal bird people known as Shrykes are the most fearsome and bloodthirsty species in the world of The Edge. Even as hatchlings they need to be kept apart or they will murder each other. It is said you should never make eye contact with a Shryke or they will kill you.
Their biggest claim to fame is the Great Slave Market. A series of pathways and buildings suspended high above the ground in the Deepwoods. Some markets last for years, taking everything from the environment around them before moving on to the next location. They sell all kinds of creatures and people as slaves.
One important part of market trading is a White Lily pin—this marks you as a buyer, not a potential product. They are real flowers and last for about three days before you need to buy a new one. However, time passes strangely in the Market from the constant hustle and bustle. Many people have accidentally gone over the time limit and been snatched up for sale…or put into the wig-wig arena to be eaten alive while people cheer.
Wig-wigs also take advantage of the situation and prowl the forest floor under the market, waiting for scraps or even unlucky travellers to fall to their deaths.
With the release of The Descenders in 2019, Chris Riddell stated this would be the last book in the Edge Chronicles. I’m sad to see it over but I’m so glad I got to experience these books at the perfect age for them and that more people will get to read them in the future. It’s such an interesting world and has great underdog characters helping to save both their communities and the world they live in.
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