The Gnole by Alan Aldridge
Co-written by Steve Boyett and illustrated by Maxine Miller and Harry Willock
Length: 503 pages
Recommended reader age: YA to adult
About the author:
Alan Aldridge: Best know for everything from illustrated hardbacks to album covers for The Who and The Beatles, and Penguin’s science fiction book covers. Born in London in 1943, he died in 2017 aged 73.
Steve Boyett: Writer and DJ from north Carolina, born 1960. Has 6 novels, including “Ariel” and “The Architect of Sleep” and countless short stories.
Maxine Miller: Illustrator from LA with a career spanning greeting cards, album covers and merchandise for bands such as Bon Jovi, Cher and LA Guns. Her work is detailed and heavily inspired by Celtic and Pagan cultures.
Harry Willock: worked alongside Alan Aldridge, first at Ink Studios and then at Alan Aldridge Associates where they produced the cover illustration and some small internal drawings for The Gnole.
Fungle Foxwit: The main character and namesake of the book. A Gnole, shaman and protector of the Valley of Smiling Water
Neema Cleverbread: The only other Gnole left in the Valley, a guest and friend of Fungle, although more so because of his father.
Kabolic Earthcreep: A Gnome, food lover and Fungle’s closest friend.
Baphomet: Dark stone with a soul and great power.
Theverat: Previous advisor to King’s and Mage of the Great Court. Now a powerful spirit with connections to the shadow realm.
Salamander: Spirit of Fire, devours everything without mercy before devouring itself.
Molom: God, elemental being, Lord of Trees and Spirit of the Woods.
Thorn: Tracker and other worldly being, can break off and throw his own thorns.
Plot summary,spoiler free I promise:
The novel starts with Fungle collecting ingredients for an autumn equinox feast he is hosting for his remaining friends, Ka and Neema. Right from the start the spiritual connection between Fungle, plants, nature and seasons are clear. He asks for the blessing of each plant before he harvests and says thanks for each part he takes. However we can already see the human influence creeping in, with bloody sunsets, longer and harsher seasons, and empty beer cans found in the woods.
Through the feast we are introduced to Neema and Ka properly, and get a true sense of the bonds, history and love of the valley (and good food) that tie all the living creatures together.
We also see use of “magick” early on, Fungle is versed in warding spells (like those used to conceal Hogwarts from muggle eyes in Harry Potter) and him reading old books and scrolls to collect the Gnoledge of the Ancients. This sits perfectly in harmony with the love that Fungle has for the forest and seems only natural that he can use magic while humans cannot.
Through Dreams, visits and symbolism Fungle is given a mission to find and destroy Baphomet to prevent “conflict and brewing war”. Fungle agrees, more to protect his valley from the rapid advancement of human kind, than from a desire to achieve greatness. This comes shortly after other creatures have asked him to help protect the Valley before they are forced to leave for deeper, older woods.
On his journey we meet Black Elves and drunken Hedgehogs, Oozlumps and Giblins, Metrognomes and Humans. We discover more about humans through Fungle’s eyes, and truly get a sense of how far removed from nature we are, and how our lives are impacting the animals and plants that call the wilds their home. We can see how some creatures, mostly Gnomes and Goblins, are using discarded human waste to create things from shoes to “light boxes”. These are the species that seem to adapt better to living on the fringe between worlds, making the most of the unwelcome waste that is being found in their homes.
We also see Fungle imprisoned and fall to temptations of human lifestyles. We watch him fight again and again, both for himself and his friends and home. Throughout it all Ka and Neema involved, continuing the links between friends, forest lifestyle and home.
Mirrored with the care and compassion shown by Fungle and his friends is the disregard for the environment and other living beings shown by humans. We see landfill sites, open faced mines and abandoned mining communities. We are shown chemical use in our everyday lives and the impact of TV on our thoughts and lives.
This book does a fantastic job of creating a fantasy world and creatures that so seamlessly fit in with our own. It is easy to see how Gnoles, Gnomes and other creatures could well be living in the world today, just well hidden and protecting the last few undisturbed pockets of land they have left.
It showcases the greed and destruction that all humans are capable of without resorting to major events or crisis, simply the act of our everyday living. This sits so well alongside the characters and story events making this a wild and pleasurable read.
The illustrations are complex and vivid, they help showcase the world, creatures and adventures.
I recommend this book for lovers of fantasy, easy to read novels and those who like a story that make them question their world view.
There is no wind. No song of bird, no cry of animal or insect hum. Only this small stage of grass like a featureless terrarium lidded shut by the swollen face of the moon.