Review by Frank Plowright
Gullimar is a magician in a community of newts, or nnewts as Doug TenNapel would have it. He’s idolised by his young son Herk, who’s on the verge of taking his first steps out of the water, but not quite there yet. Unfortunately Gullimar is off battling a weretoad when the lizzarks attack his village.
In essence, that’s the plot for just under half the book, TenNapel being a firm believer in a leisurely approach to storytelling, yet it achieves what the book title promises. Were Nnewts aimed at older readers the lack of pace would be a fatal flaw, but by slowly introducing the nnewts and their world, children can lose themselves in the surroundings and come to know the cast. Other indications are contradictory, though, as TenNapel doesn’t hold back on scary creatures and scary deaths, his art style more alligned to 1970s fantasy underground than child-friendly comforts, despite the big eyes on his cast. He also spends a fair amount of time with a dying character and what happens to their spirit after death. This can either be viewed as comforting, or as prolonging the distress.
Most of the rest of the book concerns Herk and his long journey away from his now devastated village. As he’s not able to walk properly on land, this is almost exclusively by water, and along the way he encounters several other inhabitants of the region, some dangerous, some more friendly. His journey is fraught, about which Herk comments, and he eventually meets someone who can help him. It’s a form of coming of age story, although Herk remains a youngster, just a wiser youngster when realising the ways of the world.
At his best, when delivering clever rhyming homilies, or spreads taking a wide view of a village, TenNapel charms all ages, but too much else could do with an injection of pace, even if aimed at children. Not enough happens for what’s almost two hundred story pages.
Nnewts is a trilogy that continues with The Rise of Herk.