A young man takes up his family’s quest to slay the Jabberwock, and finds unexpected wonders into the bargain.
Astreus is the son of a noble family, the House of the Jabberwock, named for that great and terrible beast, which was seen once by the House’s founder five hundred years ago as it journeyed north. On his sixteenth birthday, Astreus swears like every son of his family to accept their Quest to slay the Jabberwock, but no one expects him to actually do it—he is supposed to find a suitable wife, settle down, and run the family’s affairs as his father and grandfather did before him. But he is determined to find adventure and new experiences and, to the great distress of his father, he takes up the Vorpal Blade on his eighteenth birthday and sets off on the Quest. As he journeys north, he finds many wonders—an island full of stunningly beautiful and enigmatic young aristocrats, a society of intelligent chess-playing cats, a valley cloaked in permanent gloom—but can he find, and will he slay, the Jabberwock? And will the results be as frabjous as he has been taught?
This is a clever and charming little novella that suffers from the best possible flaw a book can have—it is too short and leaves the reader wanting more. The author takes Lewis Carroll’s poem as a jumping-off point and runs with it gleefully but thoughtfully, adding on both delightful imagery and deeper meaning. Astreus is not a pure and glorious hero, exactly—he is a young man, and he has his flaws, but to his credit he thinks about them and acknowledges them, making himself wiser in the process. The different worlds and customs he encounters are engaging, creative, and believable, for a fantasy definition of “believable”—even his talking cats have real cat names well-suited to cat voices, like Gssa and Rrurr, and anyone owned by cats will find their behavior quite appropriately feline. The resolutions of each of the little mini-stories Astreus finds himself involved in are not always happy or predictable, but are thought-provoking, intelligent, and frequently heart-catchingly moving. Singer has a poetic descriptive ability that brings his scenes to life and adds emotional color to his tale, describing the rain by a window as “the weeping water slanting past,” and a sense of stillness as “a caught breath, like my grandfather’s painting, waiting in expectation.” The ending of the larger novella is not exactly expected, but it is satisfying and at the same time intriguing, leaving the reader wanting to continue the tale.
JABBERWOCKY is a bright and beautiful collection of stories, which take a classic poem in new and engaging directions. Lewis Carroll would be delighted.