Reviews /

Uki and the Swamp Spirit

Authored by Kieran Larwood
Illustrated by David Wyatt
Published by Faber

Uki and the Swamp Spirit is the fifth book of Larwood’s highly acclaimed Five Realms series, Uki and friends Kree and Jori venture further on their quest to save the rabbit world. Previously tasked with recapturing the lost spirits of the Ancients and having successfully caught one spirit, this novel sees the trio set their sights upon Charice, spirt of disease. But the Fenlands are changing. The swamps that were once abundant with life now stagnant with death and infected creatures. With each moment Charice gets stronger and closer to infecting the whole ecosystem, along with every rabbit in it. Uki must use his powers and find a way to stop her before it is too late, or see rabbits cease to exist forever. With feuding clans and plenty of plotting enemies, Uki and the Swamp Spirt is an epic fantasy story where danger is never far away.

There may be magic flowing through Uki’s veins, but there is also something very special in the heartfelt relationships between the protagonist and his two companions. The bond that the trio share is full of insight into the power of a found family, each of them acting as a source of support and acceptance during struggle. Larwood does fantasy very well, but it is the authenticity of his main characters, their flaws and unique traits that make the story so compelling. There is still so much to learn about each character’s past, and the reader is left with much to consider themselves.

As with the previous instalments of the series, Larwood’s narrative takes on the story within a story structure. Uki’s adventure is told from the perspective of a bard to his young apprentice Rue, immediately creating a timeless feel to the tale. This is complimented by Wyatt’s illustrations, which take on a richly detailed and traditional stye. At critical points throughout the plot, the narrative returns back to the bard and Rue. This presents some lovely opportunities for children to examine how structure can be used to sustain tension and hold the reader in suspense, or even adopt this in their own writing. Further to this, Larwood uses a bold font to depict Uki’s interrupting inner thoughts, which stop the protagonist in his tracks during points of conflict. Named his ‘dark voice’, this is a fantastic device for supporting children to observe the hero’s character arc, as he grows from being filled with self-doubt and towards increased confidence.

Uki and the Swamp Spirit is genuinely wonderful escapism for readers in Year 5 and up. Throughout the fast-moving plot it delivers epic fight scenes, menacing villains and thought-provoking moral dilemmas. Whilst Uki’s journey can be enjoyed without reading the first three of The Five Realms books, children may gain a better understanding of Uki’s origins by beginning with his first book, Uki and the Outcasts. Just as the bard begins to tell his tale, he notes that: ‘Stories can lift you out of the unpleasant real world and off into another. Even if it’s just for a few moments.’ This is precisely what we all need at this point in time and is exactly what Larwood achieves. With a cliff-hanger ending, Uki’s quest is yet to continue and the bard keeps all of us waiting to find out whether good will triumph over evil.