My rating: 4 stars
When I was a little child, all the books I owned had drawings accompanying the words I had been learning how to read at school during the day. But as I grew up books with drawings almost completely vanished from my shelves. They have now made a return with Tinder by Sally Gardner and illustrations by David Roberts. This is a fairy tale retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinderbox, a story I made sure to read beforehand. Themes such as war, love and the fear of the other are present in this book which was an entertaining and, in some occasions, frightening read.
Otto Hundebiss, a soldier who has had enough of war, narrates in the first person the story of his adventures following his meeting with a mysterious half-man, half-beast, who helps him to regain his health and gives him a set of dices which reveal the direction he must take. Along the way, Otto is followed by a cloaked man who can turn into a wolf. While trying to hide from him, Otto meets the brave Safire and falls in love with her. However, they end up being separated and Otto takes as his mission to reunite with her.
As he tries to achieve that undertaking, Otto meets the Lady of the Nail and discovers the power of the tinderbox, as well as acquires quite some gold. What follows involves dark magic, werewolves, violence, blood, dreams and nightmares. But there is also a pinch of references to current real themes, for example when some villagers are quick to blame the one they see as the outsider for some of the incidents that take place.
The tone of the story was fully captured by David Roberts, whose fantastic drawings in black, white and red transform this book into a visual delight. Some illustrations fill the pages in their entirety, while others closely accompany the text. The design of the pages is also quite exquisite and helps to convey Otto’s nightmares, distinguishing them from the rest of the story.
For me the only negative point of this book is that I wanted to know more about Safire’s feelings, although I understand that it was difficult to deliver such information, since the story is being told by Otto. When I reached the sad end of the story, I was not fully certain whether she loved Otto as much as he seemed to love her. There was a moment during which it looked like she had almost forgotten about him. Falling in love appears to be a very quick process in fairy tales, with almost no need for the characters to know each other, and that was something I was not used to anymore.
One of the questions I had when buying this book was regarding the age range it was appropriate for – if this was a book written for children or if it could be also interesting for adults. After reading it, I would definitely not recommend it for children, since the drawings can be quite sinister and some explicit sexual desire references are made.
If you want to get back to the world of fairy tales, which are not as sweet as Disney wants you to believe, and miss illustrated books, which also feature some beautifully crafted sentences, Tinder may be the one for you.