The Guardians: Book One
by William Joyce and Laura Geringer
“But it was said that he once defeated an entire regiment of cavalry with a bent steak knife — while he was eating” (Joyce, 61).
Chapter Six — Chapter Nine
Okay, so I think I’ve been trying to explain the plot a bit too much. Not that the plot isn’t important, but that’s never been the point of doing these little…whatever these are (reviews, responses?).
While my discussion of plot points can certainly occur, my goal here is to express what I enjoyed or found problematic. Basically, I really liked reading this and I want to just share how great it is with all of you.
If you understand some of the plot or if it seems as if I’ve missed some connection between what I discuss, I’d recommend reading Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King.
Speaking of North, here’s when he’s finally introduced:
“in the raggedy camp of the wildest ruffians of the Russian planes, there slept a young bandit chief named Nicholas St. North. No one knew exactly how old he was…but he was old enough for the beginning of a beard and was without argument the most daring young rascal in all the Russias” (61).
This sums up North’s character pretty well. He’s the leader of a band of notorious bandits. He’s a great swordsmen but isn’t particularly concerned with being nice to others. He’s more concerned with getting treasure.
I do love how his backstory and upbringing actually make his eventual career as a bandit make sense.
North has no memory of having any family and essentially grew up in the wild, relying on his own ability to sense (and avoid) danger. He learned to develop sharp survival skills — “skills that develop when one grows up forgotten and wild: keen eyes, light steps, impossible quickness” (62).
And that idea, when I imagine it, of growing up forgotten as a child really puts a powerful spin on his future career.
But that’s not where we are right now.
Eventually young North decides he doesn’t want to just hide from danger and chooses to “purse it” (62).
Sometime soon after, he is taken in by a band of Cossacks. And for some reason, there is an implication that they’re not the best choices for role models.
For example: “the Cossacks, the most savage tribe of warriors in the Russian Empire” (62). And “It would be logical to assume that that a taste of civility (if one can call the Cossacks “civil”) would tame the lad” (63).
I really don’t know why the story says that or what it has against Cossacks. It made me scratch my head.
Among them, North learns how to fight with weapons and actually becomes more dangerous, rather than more conscientious. That said, there is one trait of North’s that is worth nothing:
“Still, along with all these dubious qualities, there came a ready smile. ‘Life is made up of danger and heartbreak,’ he’d boast. ‘I laugh in the face of both!'” (63).
He is free with his laughter and ready to challenge the world. He may be reckless, but I admire his daring attitude.
But what’s interesting is that, while the “Cossacks were, at heart, a cruel bunch…North, even with his meager moral outlook, could not abide their disregard for human life” (63). This foreshadows North’s actions a few chapters later.Anyway, as he’s sleeping one of the Man in the Moon’s moonbeams comes down to him and gives him a dream of riches — Santoff Claussen.
When the bandits arrive at the first barrier, they ride into some lovely description: “Dawn was breaking; the sky was just beginning to brighten with hints of purple and blue” (74).
After giving a speech on what great bandits they are (and having told his men about the grand treasure that awaits them), North and company plunge into the forest around Santoff Claussen.
Amusingly, North thinks the reason the giant oaks let them pass is because: “‘The forest fears us, lads!’ he crowed” (76). And I couldn’t help thinking: you just don’t have bad intentions, North. The trees wouldn’t let you in otherwise. You, silly.
North and co. make it nearly to the edge of the village proper when they hear the cries of the bear. At the same time, North and his men are entranced by the Spirit of the Forest. He’s saved by his horse Petrov, his otherwise singular real companion.
I just thought that was worth noting — while his men are turned to stone by the Spirit of the Forest, “Petrov reared up and slammed his hooves against the ground” (79). This enables North to hear the cries of terror nearby, so that “for the first time in his life, he turned away from treasure” (79).
North comes to the rescue of the children, who are being attacked by the bear who guards Santoff Claussen. Rather than turning on them, the bear has been possessed by Pitch — no one, not Ombric or the children or their parents — would suspect one of their friendly protectors to threaten them.
The bear also eats Ombric, causing a renewed sense of terror to overtake the children (the adults have been immobilized).
As North confronts the possessed bear, he “did not laugh in the face of danger” (83). And I wonder if there’s some significance here. Such as, when he laughed recklessly at danger before it was because he had nothing to be concerned about. The worse was that he would die or be captured. But it was still solely his own fate that concerned him. For the first time, other lives (the children) depend on his victory, making this danger a more serious one than any he’s ever faced.
Or, it’s because Pitch has possessed the bear and he is not someone to be laughed at lightly.
On the subject of Pitch, I wanted to bring up the idea of criminality in relation to North.
In the story of the Golden Age, criminals such as thieves are imprisoned in the darkest reaches of space. But here, North is such a criminal — he openly admits to wanting to steal. And yet, I don’t think he would be (or should be) imprisoned in the same manner. Why not?
Well, prominently because as much as he is only out for himself, he does come to the children’s rescue. And as we’ll see next week, North has his own issues with kindness and loneliness that affect his attitude.
But also because being a criminal is not always just a matter of being bad. There’s society and class structure, availability of options, and individual personality.
As in One Piece, while the larger ratio of criminals are terrible that doesn’t preclude that everyone of them is terrible. And I suppose that’s all I have to say about that.
It ends with the terrifying appearance of Pitch.
“the bear shredded away a huge swathe of bark and snatched the wizard from the hollow, gulping him down in one ferocious bite” (82).
Joyce, William and Laura Geringer. Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King. New York: Atheneum Books, 2011. Print.