Both tragedy and triumph ensue, and when the worst happens, readers will be moved to tears–but cheered by the stirring sense of companionship. The Tolkien-like epic journey is detailed with beauty and power, tracing victories and calamities alike while starkly illustrating the futilities of war. Claybrook confronts the harsh realities of survival in the animal world as well, mirroring the importance of hope in the midst of great trial, seeding the idea of freedom as an innate need across the narrative. The lyrical prose—“But the ground was bloodless, only glazed by the foul after-aroma of scurvy-rotten rat tongues and cannibal stink”— paints arresting word pictures and will leave fans of animal-oriented fantasy eagerly anticipating the next complication right up until the story’s end.
Claybrook embeds valuable life lessons in this quest for freedom, including learning how to endure hardship and coming to terms with the ugliness that colors the natural world, and these axioms make traveling with Gy, Cyrilline, and Deria as they try to navigate the dangers especially rewarding. While Elderwood Chronicles is an ongoing series, with a projected fourth volume, this entry can be read as a standalone novel. Fantasy readers will fall in love with Claybrook’s expertly wrought, lovingly crafted tale and world, and likely find themselves longing for the next installment.
Takeaway: This enjoyable animal fantasy epic overflows with courage, heart, and adventure.
Great for fans of: Kathryn Lasky’s The Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Robert C. O’Brien’s The Secret of NIMH.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B
"Reviewed By K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite
The Sloughs of Ungleauw is a work of fiction in the fantasy and adventure subgenres, and it serves as the third installment of the Elderwood Chronicles series. The work is intended for the general reading audience and was penned by author M. G. Claybrook. In this action-packed fantasy sequel, we find ourselves following protagonists Deria and Syrena as they face separate but interlocked personal challenges in the wake of the Great Vermin Army. As Deria undergoes shock, loss, and adjustment, Syrena puts a brave face on it all to forge ahead and find her path. But will they ever find contentment in a wildly dangerous world?
One of the things that I find essential to any high fantasy novel with another world for me to jump into is a strong, believable concept, and author M. G. Claybrook certainly knows the story world of the Elderwood Chronicles inside out. Conceptually watertight and atmospherically described, readers will find themselves totally immersed in the setting from the very first chapter, and from there the excellent character work takes over to keep us emotionally invested in the events of the plot. I really enjoyed Syrena’s narrative especially, as I felt it showed different layers of complexity and that confidence and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive, but living hand in hand within each of us every day. It is this depth that keeps you glued to the action as the slow burn drives us to the action-packed ending. Overall, I’d certainly recommend The Sloughs of Ungleauw to fans of the existing series as an unmissable new installment."
Enchanting, heart-rending, and sentimental…
High on action, adventure, and intrigue, Claybrook’s third installment in the Elderwood Chronicles picks up where the last installment left off. In the aftermath of the Great Vermin Army, Deria’s parents have no option but to face exile. Though innocent, Deria has borne the brunt of the shock. But Cirina is different: she is determined, fierce, and highly driven. But is that enough to make a change? The people of Hesperia will soon know. Claybrook writes an engrossing fantasy about will, determination, hard work, perseverance, identity, and finding one’s voice. Told primarily in alternative first-person voices, the characters develop through their revealed thoughts and actions. Readers will find themselves rooting for both Deria and Cirina, each of whom adds a significant layer to the story. Secondary characters are equally compelling. Claybrook effortlessly folds in multiple junctions, including Deria’s backstory and Cirina’s ongoing struggles as she tries to find her life path. Skillfully constructed and full of wonder, this is a poignant, gripping must-read.
"But, as she would soon discover, there is a moment before you jump into nothing, where the insides howl."
Ancestral tales within the story enrich this multilayered young adult fantasy featuring a well-designed world of animal characters. As the novel opens, the Daggerouth-Ballo family—father, mother, and child—have no choice but to face exile from Hesperia, a district of flying squirrels in Elderwood. The family faces hunger and hardship while fleeing through various mysterious territories that they know only by description. The story is related in two viewpoints, quite often as backstory told in the voice of Deria Daggerouth Ballo. The learned mother shares clan history and wisdom with her daughter, Cirina.
Cirina listens while growing from a little kit struggling to master the finer points of flying into a vibrant young adult destined to reunite her clan of farmers who must become flying warriors in tumultuous times. Cirina's viewpoint becomes more prominent in later chapters while preparing to meet her destiny. After her father's death on the tail-end of the journey, she explores ways to free herself and her mother from Ungelauw, a dystopic underground fortress populated by enslaved squirrels. There, she learns to embrace life with measured ferocity, resilience, and an open heart.
Readers of epic fabulist adventure in worlds populated by squirrels, rabbits, otters, owls, crows. and the like will enjoy not only the memorable, multidimensional characters and their lively interactions but also the lyrical wordplay. Critics favorably compare Claybrook's previous books in this series to Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and Robert C. O'Brien's The Secret of NIMH. The Elderwood Chronicles are standalone stories, enabling this third one to be savored without reading the previous books. Based on the quality of this volume, the fourth book of the series is likely to be highly anticipated by Claybrook's audience.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review