Reviews /

Utterly Dark and the Tides of Time

Authored by Philip Reeve
Published by David Fickling Books

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Utterly Dark and the Tides of Time marks an utterly satisfying and utterly sublime conclusion to Philip Reeve’s historic fantasy trilogy. Reeve once again transports us to the island of Wildsea, one of the mysterious Autumn Isles: the year is initially 1812 but, in this instalment, Utterly and her companions find themselves travelling through time as they wash up in Wildsea in 1971.

This novel begins a few months after the end of the previous volume, Utterly Dark and the Heart of the Wild, in which Utterly’s mother, the Gorm, extracted a promise from Utterly that she would come and live with her the following spring in exchange for the Gorm rescuing Utterly and her friends. And so early one morning, Utterly leaves Sundown Watch without saying goodbye, afraid to anger the Gorm by breaking her promise. Even in these opening pages, I was reminded of why I loved this series to much: there is real pathos in Utterly’s silent departure (and the way that her friend Egg has noticed her ‘privately bidding them farewell‘ in the preceding months) but we also see Reeve’s characteristically understated humour when, for instance, Utterly packs a comb and hairbrush in case the Gorm might ‘expect her to brush her hair with a sea-urchin or something, which would be a disagreeable experience both for Utterly and the urchin.’

This is just the beginning of Utterly’s most exciting adventure yet. As she swims with her shape-shifting mother she discovers that ‘time is a sea‘ and she is able to swim ‘through all the many ages of the world‘. The Gorm shows her some extraordinary sights but things go wrong when they travel forward in time to the 1970s, where the Gorm’s powers are diminished and Utterly is captured by the sinister Professor Stone, a scientist determined to discover the secrets of the Gorm at all costs. Meanwhile, back on Wildsea in 1812, Utterly’s Uncle Will and his supernatural wife Aish are expecting twins so Aish forbids Will from going in search of Utterly. However, he is forced to go exploring by the arrival of a British naval ship containing his old friend Constantine and the sinister Lord Langdale who wants to claim the Hidden Lands for King George. Predictably, Egg manages to stow away on board this ship and, with the help of the Gorm, also finds himself transported to Wildsea in 1971 where he sets out to rescue Utterly.

Reeve manages to deliver exactly what readers will want from the third part of a trilogy: reprising everything we loved about the first two books whilst introducing a brilliant new element in the form of time travel. He has a lot of fun with this aspect of the story, as we get to see a world which is not too dissimilar to ours through the incredulous eyes of Utterly and Egg, rendering the familiar gloriously unfamiliar. The world-building has been brilliantly rich and imaginative throughout this series, but here it gains a completeness as Reeve shows us both its beginning and its end.

There is an underlying ecological message in this story, but it feels like Reeve’s real focus is on the characters we have come to love so deeply over the course of three novels. Utterly, Egg, Will and Aish all have important roles to play, as well as the Gorm, whose relationship with Utterly comes to the fore here. There is a selfishness and capriciousness to the Gorm which contrasts with Utterly’s selflessness and wisdom far beyond her years, but both of them grow and develop. In fact, it becomes a universal story about what it means to grow up; when she is told that she is not a child anymore, ‘this seemed to Utterly the saddest thing that anyone had ever said to her‘. And yet Utterly finds plenty of happiness in the ingeniously plotted ending of the book which I found beautiful, moving and unexpected.

This is obviously a must-read for anyone who has enjoyed Utterly’s previous adventures (in my opinion, it is the best of the series) – but I particularly envy who haven’t yet had the pleasure of travelling to Wildsea: three terrific stories by a master storyteller await, perfect for readers in upper KS2 and KS3.