When words collide

21st March 1997 at 00:00
DREAMWEAVER By Louise Lawrence Collins Pounds 9.99

THE RAVEN'S KNOT By Robin Jarvis Collins Pounds 10.99

Philip Pullman, author of the massive trilogy-in- progress, His Dark Materials, recently suggested that any work exploring parallel worlds, conceived on the grand scale, needed a central dynamic tension that could be distilled into a sentence.

Such clarity is usually important for early adolescents, the likely readers of the two books under review.

Louise Lawrence's Dream-weaver certainly fulfils Pullman's dictum; but The Raven's Knot, the second part of Robin Jarvis's latest trilogy, Tales from the Wyrd Museum (he is best known for his Deptford Mice stories), leaves a trail of shattered conventions - a readily summarised plot being one of them.

In Dreamweaver, a pair of star-cross'd lovers are caught between two cultures as a spaceship from our galaxy hurtles towards the planet Arbroth.The question driving the narrative is what will happen when these worlds collide?

Aboard Exodus 27 are 3,000 wealthy escapees from a decayed Earth (arms dealers, police chiefs, media folk and the like) who aim to colonise Arbroth. Troy Morrison is a junior crew member, repelled by the grasping arrogance of the emigrants, who are prompted by ruthless certainties worthy of the Victorians.

Arbroth has rejected the tyranny of technology and turned to a subsistence utopia; its people value equality and simplicity, and acknowledge the mysterious powers of mind and spirit.

There are some Nineties stereotypes - men tend to be violent and unthinking while women are caring and intuitive. The only males to break the mould are the acolytes (almost always physically handicapped) who serve the dreamweavers, women who are healers and psychotherapists, benignly influencing others through the dreams they weave into their sleep.

Eth is a novice dreamweaver of extraordinary innate powers. The plot leads her and Troy into a rite of passage in which they must balance duty against an overwhelming attraction to each other, for their destiny is to have the future of Arbroth in their hands.

The issues are strong enough and ambiguous enough - and the speed with which the collision of cultures literally and ideologically approaches is urgent enough - to make this a very satisfying read.

By contrast, the many strands of Robin Jarvis's plot career about southern England like demented wild stallions. After 450 pages, hyperbole becomes infectious, for Mr Jarvis does not flinch from prose of a vivid purple. Try these on your average adolescent: "torrefied", "brumal", "stridulous", "pearlescent"; or this description of the Valkyries: "their harrowing, horripilant screams of derision rose to a malevolent crescendo".

In the second of Jarvis's Tales from the Wyrd Museum, we are again caught up in the London streets with the Three Fates, Yggdrasil, Woden and his raven lieutenants. Then, we are whipped away to Glastonbury, to Joseph of Arimathea (whose corpse crumbles on the page), the Thorn, the Grail, the spearhead still stained with the blood of the crucified Christ. In a thunderous climax, the deus ex machina is none other than The Angel of Mons (I'm pretty sure).

Some readers will not pick up all the Christian and Nordic references, but these underlying myths give the sense of great forces stirring. Shrewdly, the high melodrama is consistently undercut by the intrepid, comic voices of Edie Dorkins and Neil Chapman, survivors of The Woven Path.

It's intoxicating stuff, and in the end the tale carries you off much as the Valkyries grab their victims. For lovers of extravagant words and action charged with mystery and passion, Mr Jarvis must be hard to beat; and his terrors have infinitely deeper roots than the arbitrary jolts of much horror fiction. It is not easy on an adult palate, but I doubt if Mr Jarvis, or his many fans, could care less about that.

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