This book is the second in the Tales of Widowswood series. Spoilers await to tangle the unwary.
In three weeks after the death of the Banderwigh, Emma has attempted to put her fears behind her in favour of the comforts of her, now larger, family; and her increasing connection to the spirits and magic of the Widowswood. However, the deal she made with the Spider Queen looms ever larger as the time for her to keep her promise approaches. And, when a gang of thieves start searching the forest for the source of the silk, Emma’s general fear of spiders grows into a specific terror that the Queen will consider the promise broken and claim her life.
As with the previous volume, Cox tempers the depth of world-building and complexity of characters that make his adult fiction resonate with simpler vocabulary and less graphic descriptions to create a tale that is filled with tense adventure that won’t terrify younger readers.
Where the focus of the first book was on Emma acting because adults didn’t believe, this time her challenge is adults not considering her moral choices reason to act: still filled with the immortality and certainty of youth, she cannot conceive not keeping her promises even if they might be beyond her abilities; whereas her parents desire only that she remain safe and let them deal with any consequences that might come. As the story unfolds Cox carefully balances the virtues of decisiveness and honour with the perils of impetuousness and pridefulness, showing the reader examples of both perspectives having value while still demonstrating that a pure heart is a reasonable guide in life.
Similarly, while Cox includes a broad range of issues commonly experienced by ten-year-olds, the root of the plot is selfishness: the deal Emma reached with the spiders in the previous volume genuinely benefits both sides.
Running in parallel to this thread of community vs self-interest is a theme of facing fears: Emma is scared of spiders; her parents are worried she will be taken from them again; Kimber is terrified of things that remind her of her abusive father.
Emma is, as previously, a well-written protagonist, who displays the innocence and weaknesses of youth without risking more mature readers becoming frustrated by her naivety or incompetence. Despite her developing mystical powers and growing life experience, she continues to demonstrate a charming blend of success and failure.
The supporting cast have similarly developed after their experiences in the first book without becoming annoyingly free of issues: this is especially noticeable with Emma’s Da, who cannot properly deny the spirits are real but cannot abandon an upbringing that states that they are not.
Overall, I enjoyed this novella. I recommend it to readers seeking fantasy that is suitable for readers of all ages.
I received a free copy from the author with no obligation to review.