After The Various and Celandine comes the final book in the Touchstone Trilogy. This installment focuses again on Midge, the young girl who in the first book became involved in a dangerous attempt to save the Various – a loosely united group of several tribes of very small human-like creatures living in the local woods – from destruction. Another returning character is Celandine, who had her own amazing experiences with the Various back in 1915 in Celandine; in Winter Wood, she is now extremely old, but she holds the secret to the whereabouts of the Orbis, which the Various need to get back to their own land again.
Most important characters from The Various re-appear, including Henty, Pegs, and Maven-the-Green, and scenes in which the different tribes wrangle about their future are interspersed with Midge’s discovery of the long-lost Celandine (Midge’s greatgreat-aunt) in a nursing home nearby and her attempts to locate the Orbis and get it back to the Various.
Like the first two books, this one takes its sweet time exploring the issues and setting the stage for the eventual bursts of tense action. I for one don’t begrudge the time spent listening in on Midge’s conversations with the ancient, forgetful, but fascinating Celandine, watching Maglin (leader of the Ickris) become convinced of the existence of a mystical homeland, or experiencing the warm wonders of a human sleeping bag with Romeo-and-Juliet runaways Henty and Little-Marten. Augarde’s use of language – matter-of-fact Briticisms for the humans and a rugged, rustic, old-fashioned dialect for the various – aptly highlights the differences between humans and Various, and also sets the mood for both mundane events and moments of high tension.
Not every question is answered, and the climactic last scene seems a bit hurried and pat (although I did love how Celandine’s story wraps up). It wasn’t until the end that I realized that the ethereal white-blond beauty pictured on the cover of my review copy (I so prefer the UK cover, by the way) wasn’t in fact supposed to be Midge (which would have been odd, as one pictures Midge to be more a normal-looking, sturdy sort of girl), but rather a character from Celandine who makes herself known at the last moment and whisks everyone off to the homeland. Not the most convincing of storylines, unfortunately, and also one that leaves the emotions rather unmoved.
Nevertheless, fans of the first two books will love this book despite those quibbles. Winter Wood doesn’t stand alone - readers will have to have read The Various to understand all the allusions to previous doings, although perhaps a previous knowledge of Celandine isn’t a prerequisite – but if you own the first two books, this last in the trilogy is a necessity.
Grades 5 - 8