Albion Imperilled

Albion Imperilled - a fairytale for grownups by ruth thomas

Albion Imperilled is a fictional work concerning four children who stumble upon the threshold to a magical domain. As a “fairy-tale for grownups” the book may be read on two levels, either as a fantasy or as a satirical commentary on contemporary Britain. Narnia with a difference! The action shifts between Britain in the 1950s where the children are at boarding school and the year 2000, when the “children” are all now fully-grown and middle-aged. Laurence is a senior partner in a firm of stockbrokers in London, and Gillian is a retired school-teacher. The eldest, Philip, is a top neurosurgeon convalescing from a debilitating stroke. The youngest, Josie, carries the burden of a far more troubled past (homelessness and borderline schizophrenia) and now resides in a isolated hill-top cottage in Wales from where she posts cryptic postcards to her siblings, as reminders of a past they have long forgotten but which continues to haunt her.

They are all, in varying degrees, frustrated by their present circumstances and discontented with life in modern-day Britain. The story is seen chiefly through the eyes of Laurence, who is something of a misfit and outsider in the society in which he finds himself, and many readers will be able to identify with his sense of outrage at the indignities and patent absurdities he encounters as a hapless Londoner going about his daily business. The second chapter finds him catapulted back into the past back into the past through the agency of Darius – a character from Albion – who stalks him through the streets of London, and the early chapters are a semi-nostalgic evocation of a vanished era (circa 1959) He is captured by Ermentrude, ruler of Albion, and eventually rescued by Darius, but in fleeing the Queen they end up in Laurence and Philip’s old boarding school. Through focussing on the flawed character of Laurence the book can also be viewed as a classic tale of betrayal and the corruption of power.

Gillian’s entry to Albion is occasioned by a local protest against the destruction of an ancient primaeval forest to make way for a new housing estate. She is in sympathy with the protesters, but in escaping arrest seeks sanctuary in the forest, where she, too, vanishes from this world into the past. Her disappearance provides the catalyst for the others to unite in the search for her, and the occasion for the grand entry to Albion when they clamber into a hollow beech tree in order to escape the inebriated antics of their elderly relatives. It is at this point that the adventure proper begins. They are taken in by a pair of friendly gnomes, the Grumblegoods, from whom they learn that the forest of Albion has been overrun by hostile goblins. Many of the ancient trees have been chopped down, and the gnomes chased from their tree-houses and driven underground. Ermentrude has set up a network of spies and informers and the forest-dwellers are increasingly reliant on the Grey Squirrel Express for communication and news.

The final call to arms comes from Darius who, aided by the Faery Queen, is able to invoke the mighty power of the forest itself on the one night of the year – known as the arboreal awakening – when the trees are able to move of their own accord. Following the Battle of the Trees, the children are returned to the present-day, enriched and enhanced by the realisation that the gifts bestowed by the Faery Queen are emblematic, tokens of faculties we all possess.

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