Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Tinder, by Sally Gardner, Illustrated by David Roberts

One of only a handful of titles to be shortlisted for both the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway medals in the award's history, Tinder is an illustrated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairytale The Tinderbox. I'm not massively familiar with the original, but this has all the elements of an old-school spine tingler- blood and gore, evil queens, a mysterious trickster, enchanted objects, a dastardly prince and a beautiful maiden.

In a nutshell, an injured and deserting soldier named Otto stumbles across a werewolf deep in a forest and escapes whilst the wolf devours some cutthroats. Shortly after, he is nursed back to health by a mysterious trickster and given some enchanted dice that will direct him on his path. This path leads him to a beautiful girl destined to marry a loathsome prince, with whom he falls instantly in love, a wicked Lady of the Nail and her magical Tinderbox, complete with three guardian werewolves and eventually to a village ravaged by sudden werewolf attacks after being immune for so long. Otto, recklessly in love and in possession of more wealth and power than he has ever dreamed of vows to rescue Saffire, his flame haired love from the prince. Who is apparently sleeping with Saffire's step-mother, the sister of the wicked Wolf-Lady.

The illustrations that accompany, anchor and contain the story are absolutely central to this book. They become crucial to the format of the story, separating dreams and reality throughout the story. Beautiful landscapes and portraits, in dusky charcoals and inks- sometimes they look hurried and frantic, sometimes painstakingly detailed and precise. My favourite was definitely the fruit and bread feast that's laid out for Otto in the castle of the Lady of the Nail. The drawings lead the narrative really, the simple black, white and red is more than just an accompanying image, the plot depends on them.

I had a really hard time working out who the target audience was for this book. Incredible though the illustrations are, I can imagine older readers mistakenly dismissing this as a children's book. To all intents and purposes it looks like one. I'm not saying that books for adults can't be illustrated (as a regular graphic novel reader objections to such ideas seem absurd). However, certain elements of the story (an incitement to rape, some sleazy innuendo, a bit of a May-December royal romp...) makes me think that this book isn't aimed at the audience that it would probably appeal the most to visually. That's before we even take into account the complexity of the story and the M. Night Shyamalan EVERYTHING YOU'VE KNOWN IS A LIE! twist at the end. Or at least I think it was.
I love how Guernica this double page spread is
I think I enjoyed the book, though I struggled to tap into the magic reserves that have so impressed other readers. It didn't captivate me and it took me quite a while to read because I didn't find it difficult to put down. The prose held its tone admirably, I really believed that this could have been a tale from olden times- it never broke that thread and never gives the reader a cheeky wink of modern day acknowledgement. I suppose it became laborious and a little ploddy in parts and were it not for the illustrations being as arresting as they are, I think I might have given up on this one. I wouldn't be outraged if it won the Kate Greenaway as the artwork in Tinder is truly marvellous, but I would feel cheated if it won the Carnegie.

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