Ben is having a very bad life. First, after being used as a pawn in his parent’s divorce he’s now trapped in a backwater town. Second, in a few days’ time he’s due in court, charged with hacking into a corporation’s servers – Ben can already hear the Correctional Centre calling. And third, he’s currently being chased through the school by a knife-wielding bully…. who has just been eaten by a gross-looking spider monster that climbed out of a door which (Ben falsely believed) led to a storeroom. Except there’s no storeroom behind the door, there’s only blackness and a sheer drop into a challenging multiverse called the Well, and before the bully-devouring spider monster can turn its fangs on Ben, a strange but beguiling young woman called Essa has pulled him into the Well and slammed the door on the world he knows. Ben always thought Essa was just another classmate, albeit one who could draw the most incredible macabre pictures. But Essa was exiled from the Well by a vengeful lover, and Ben quickly discovers that the terrifying creatures she draws are not the creations of her imagination…
And the Well is not what it seems either. It is a vast bottomless pit lined with doors that lead to countless other worlds, populated by a vast array of beautiful, horrific, benign, vicious and despotic lifeforms. Essa, who has been unfairly charged with a friend’s murder, is a fugitive determined to seek revenge. Ben, who desperately needs to return to his world, is nonetheless committed to helping her or dying in the attempt. And their only allies are a living brain mounted inside a clockwork spider, a girl made of iron whose civilisation was condemned to death by the powers that control the Well, and a marvellous creature with the consistency of red dust that Essa treats like a pet. But an ancient threat has awakened and is amassing its legions, and if Essa and Ben can’t defeat it, every world connected to the Well will be destroyed – including our own.
This is what high fantasy is all about. Robin Shortt has created something quite magnificent here – a universe that is entirely alien, with a philosophy and a vocabulary that is almost beyond understanding, but which is still completely accessible and immediately engrossing. It’s a little bit L. Frank Baum, a little bit Del Toro, a little bit Hieronymous Bosch, even a little bit Frank Herbert – a subgenre all its own, absolutely unclassifiable, but quite dazzling. Our only criticism – and it’s a small one – is that, although Ben is an engaging young hero, he often pales beside the colourful weirdness of the surrounding characters, which makes it easy to overlook the personal jeopardy he faces if he doesn’t return to his world in time. Still, that didn’t detract from our enjoyment of a story that is brilliant, brave and frequently awe-inspiring.
WELLSIDE / AUTHOR: ROBIN SHORTT / PUBLISHER: CANDLEMARK & GLEAM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW