The following is my review of the book Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage which originally appeared in BusinessWorld‘s Weekender, September 23, 2011.
Fantasy for all ages
Galadria: Peter Huddleston and The Rites of Passage
By Miguel Lopez de Leon
FANTASY can be a very tricky fictional genre. Play it too safe and it may become staid, predictable, and unimaginative prose, hardly fantasy at all. Play it excessively daring and readers may find the experience too alien, lacking in empathy, and disconcertingly unfamiliar.
Once in a while, however, a happy medium is struck. Somewhere between reality and dream, a good fantasy book unlocks a dimension of uncharted possibilities. It assumes a life of its own, as the story navigates readers through today’s concerns and tomorrow’s visions. One such happy medium is Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage.
Peter Huddleston is 12 and, perhaps like most 12-year-olds, digs comic books and chocolates. He could have been a perfectly ordinary 12-year-old, except that he never really feels like he belongs anywhere. Friendless, stuck in the flat beige world of his stepmother’s creation, and unable to connect with an emotionally distant father, Peter feels hemmed in his stifling, everyday world. All it takes to break his box of isolation are cruel, hurtful words and Peter, once simply lonely, assumes a reputation of notoriety and harbors criminal aspirations.
The punishment for his “crimes” is a summer in exile in Hillside Manor. Sent to live with an aunt he never knew he had, in a place he never thought existed, Peter discovers the missing parts of himself, and in the process, rediscovers who he is and what he is really made of.
Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage is a charming coming-of-age story originally written for children seven to 12 years old. Published by Moon Shadow Press, an imprint of Wakestone Press, Galadria is the publishing firm’s first foray into fiction.
First in a trilogy, the story marks Peter’s introduction to his “other world” and his sudden transition from childhood to adulthood under extraordinary circumstances.
The story starts out slow but picks up pace considerably from Chapter Three. While his life at home forms the background into which Peter is first drawn, his adventures in Hillside Manor make up the main body of the story. The tone also changes from beginning to end, subtly echoing the changes in Peter’s environment. Galadriais laid out in progressive points, paralleling the protagonist’s discovery of Hillside Manor with the readers’ own. Although written in language simple enough for seven-year-olds to easily understand, there is no lack of description that allows older readers to visualize scenes with imagination and clarity.
Much of the charm of the book comes from its quirky characters. It’s not hard to like Peter Huddleston. Not too timid but not too brash, with a liberal streak of childish rebelliousness, Peter makes for a perfectly imperfect hero. Add disconnected father Andrew, emotionally constipated stepmother Gertrude, even flamboyant pseudo-Aunt Celeste, and you see and feel exactly the depths of Peter’s despair. Now, throw in the peculiar but affable Twickeypoos (Arthur and Martha), the butler with the love for mismatched clothing (Monty, my favorite, who I think deserves a book of his own), the beautiful and regal queen (Aunt Gillian), and the conniving, devious nemesis (Knor Shadowray), and you open the door to the possibilities of more adventures down the road. There are other characters, each as distinct as the other, just waiting for the pages to flesh them out.
Like other fantasy books, the supernatural/magical element is a strong suit in Galadria. Hillside Manor certainly does not lack in the supernatural and magical, with lush gardens, exotic animals, and dimensional portals. The author’s choice of a returning boomerang as protection revives its history of traditional use in hunting and weaponry but adds more juice for other-worldly powers. The imaginative use of chocolates as sources of unusual — albeit, short-lasting — powers is inventive and, for many readers, mouthwatering.
If there is one failing this book has, it is that it leaves readers wanting more with its shortness. At 226 pages inclusive of title page, table of contents and illustrations, the book can be read in one enjoyable sitting. The brevity was intentional, the author, Miguel Lopez de Leon explained. As the opening book in a series, Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage was meant to introduce readers to the different personalities and set up their life’s circumstance. Development of their characters will follow with the other books in the series. Then, too, the shortness was a result of marketplace economics. A thick, hardbound book would be more expensive to produce; the high list price would limit the audience it reaches and the author wanted more children to be able to read his book.
One hardly expects a fantasy writer to discuss magical realms and economics in the same breath, but this is not unusual to the author. Born to a Filipino family steeped in business, De Leon learned the trade very early on from his parents. His interest in writing bloomed only in adolescence, an offshoot of his love for comics and fantasy books. Educated largely in the United States (except for high school, when he attended an international school in the country), De Leon found his niche in poetry and short stories, many of which have been published in literary magazines and book anthologies in the US.
Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage stands in stark contrast to the dark fantasy De Leon serves his short story fans, but he makes the shift with ease. In many ways, while De Leon admits to a creative process that melds order and method with imagination, his first foray into children’s fantasy succeeds because he writes from the heart. Take, for example, his portrait of Galadrian culture, which mirrors elements of Philippine culture and is reflective of his roots and values. It is also a testament to his national pride.
De Leon remains mum on the future of Peter Huddleston and Galadria. Even as the sequel, Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Mists of the Three Lakes, becomes ready for publication next year, there is little to indicate the direction his characters will take, only a reassurance that the follow-up book will answer some of the readers’ lingering questions. Not even a query on his favorite Creamer could elicit a hint of what’s in store for readers in March 2012. Wisely, he chooses only from the Creamers readers have already encountered in Book One: the Creamer that lets one fly.
In real life, however, De Leon has no need for Creamers. As one of the few Filipinos who have made tangible marks in the world, Miguel Lopez de Leon is already flying high.