Filler content with plucking

This review appeared on the old TTA Press website on 18 June 2007:-

THE PLUCKER by BROM
Abrams hardback, 160pp, £12.95

It’s a bit early to begin talking about Barker’s Abarat starting a trend for fantasy novels aimed at the YA market and inspired by artwork, but nonetheless here we have renowned Fantasy artist Brom with The Plucker. One hundred and sixty full colour illustrations form the backbone of this project, each of them sumptuously detailed and slightly minatory, with muted browns and greys predominant. My familiarity with Brom’s work is limited to one Paper Tiger volume, Darkwerks, but from memory this is not his usual style, which is far more decadent and ornate and precise, instead bringing to mind the art of Brian Froud in his own, early excursion into illustrated storytelling, The Prince and the Woodcutter. Rustic is a word that springs to mind, however inappropriate.

Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of Jack (in the box), who suffers the fate of all toys whose owners outgrow them, stuffed under the bed and forgotten (echoes of Toy Story), shunned by the other toys. Thomas’ father, a sailor who travels the world with the navy, brings home an African idol as a gift for his son. The idol contains the soul of a demon, the Plucker of the title, which escapes and hides in the walls of their house. The Plucker fashions monsters out of sticks and other waste material, sending them out to seize the toys, who he feeds on to bolster his own power, eventually beginning to drain the life energy of Thomas himself. Fortunately Thomas’ nanny, Mabelle, has a voodoo heritage and realises what is going on. She empowers Jack and sends him to destroy the Plucker, and save both Thomas and the beautiful doll Angel, whom he loves.

The book is unmistakably targeted at the young adult market, though use of words like ‘fuck’ might give the more unsuspecting parents pause, but should appeal to adults also, and not just for the artwork. It’s a fast paced story and enjoyable, with the Plucker, his army of Stickmen and Foulthings, generating a real sense of menace, but to his credit Brom doesn’t offer readers the get out of gaol free card of pure evil. He makes the monster almost sympathetic, giving verisimilitude to the things he does and his reasons for doing them. Jack is an engaging protagonist, selfless and willing to do anything for love, his actions made all the more poignant by the misery of past rejection, though even here Brom strikes a note of caution, seeding the text with a suggestion that maybe heroes can be corrupted by the terrible deeds required of them. The final confrontation between the two is exciting and very visual, complete with sacrificial victim, giant snake and an army of malice filled hangers on, bringing to mind scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom curiously enough. While the writing may not be on a par with Barker, it gets the job done with no messing, and the wonderful paintings make up for what the prose lacks. Recommended to the young and not so young at heart.

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