From an early Horwood adept, I changed into a critic. Completely overwhelmed by his highly successful debut Duncton Wood (which I then read in Dutch), I read every new book from his hands. My admiration grew after reading his masterpieces The Stonor Eagles and Skallagrigg (the last still being his best book in my humble opinion).
After reading The Stonor Eagles I was prompted to write to him about my own budding writing aspirations. He very kindly wrote back to me and we corresponded for a short period. Then Duncton Quest was published which was followed by the subsequent volumes on the Duncton Saga. Even though I read them all, and was very happy with them, I was somehow disappointed. From The Stonor Eagles to Skallagrigg the whole world of fantasy was abandoned and Mr. Horwood turned into realistic novels. Which I believed to be an improvement in the sense of it being real literature. I even published an essay back in 1995 in which I explained the why of my disappointment.
Now, some fifteen years later, having read The Boy With No Shoes and his James Conan book City of Dark Hearts, my Horwood-hunger is not yet saturated. Not by a long shot.
My expectations for this first of four books on Hyddenword were high. And I must say, with right! I thoroughly enjoyed it. This world Mr. Horwood has created is full of mystery and of purpose. Unseen borders near of in the middle of henges, make it possible to cross over from the world of humans to the world of hydden, or the other way around. Habits and sizes are different in both worlds, but their inhabitants still seem to be coming from the same origin. Hydden know about humans and can see be, but humans seem to have forgotten about the hydden and have lost the ability to see them.
What I enjoyed particularly is the sense of purpose that the characters in this book have. Like Bedwyn Stort, a hydden who knows exactly when to be present in a certain place at a certain time. Not by intellect but sensing that he is needed for who knows what. As Bedwyn Stort says somewhere in the book:
"(...) You don’t have to understand to do it. Understanding doesn’t help at all. It merely gets in the way."
It looks like most of the hydden and some of the humans are fulfilling their destiny like it’s the most common thing to do.
The story is filled with characters that have a very special destiny. It is this expectant atmosphere that makes his work recognizable. In all his molebooks this is present also. Katherine, born a human, and Jack, born a hydden, are writing the history of which humans and hydden in many generations to come will tell stories about. In the beginning of the book Jack crosses over to the human world, and takes on their size and learns their habits. They meet and although they’re not very accustomed to one another they also seem destined to be together. Some hydden believe that they are part of a prophesy, and therefore they abduct Katherine into their own world. She becomes a hydden right away. Jack follows her and many beautiful and extraordinary pages follow on their adventures in hyddenworld.
I won’t tell the whole story here (too much and too complicated), but at the end of the book, Katherine and Jack finally express their love for one another. And right on the border between the two worlds, something important takes place. This is of course the upbeat towards the second book in the series, Summer (which would later be titled: Awakening)
Not everything of the world of the hydden is explained and many events will no doubt take their final place in the story in the books to come. But this makes it all the more credible. Mr. Horwood has again created a fantasy world that you would wish existed for real. He has the ability to wet the readers eyes in the course of half a page. This book is clearly the beginning of things, just like spring is. I can’t wait to see how it continues and what the meaning is of many of the greatly symbolic events in this book.