A few years back when I was starting to make decisions about what I wanted to do with myself after high school, I was torn between two passions. One was conservation, my desire to protect animals and the environment from misuse and exploitation. The other was writing.
One afternoon I was sitting at home, passing the time by perusing the blogs of some of my favourite authors. It was while watching a video by Henry Neff, the author and illustrator of The Tapestry, that I had a minor epiphany. In a video response to some fan questions Henry spoke about the joy of going on tour, of meeting readers who loved and had been moved by the stories he told. This made me realize that I wanted to know what that was like. I decided then that writing was the career path for me.
For a while now an idea for a series of posts extolling the virtues of some books and book series I feel are not nearly well enough known has been brewing in the back of my mind, and I can think of no series deserving of far more attention than it gets that Henry Neff's The Tapestry.
Can you imagine the world under control of a malevolent, immortal being who has the ability to literally erase things from history? Can you imagine the continents divided up into strange new feudal kingdoms ruled by demons, where monsters wander abroad, ogres haunt the valleys and goblins trade with humans? Can you imagine being one of the few people in existence who remember civilization as it used to be? And can you imagine one small bastion of goodness and freedom, sending its agents trained in the arts of combat and sorcery out into this strange and dangerous world on a desperate mission to restore humankind's mastery of our own planet?
This is Rowan Academy, a hidden training ground for young Potentials gifted with the ability to use magic on the coast of New England. When The Tapestry series begins with its first novel, The Hound of Rowan, demons have yet to seize control of the planet and Rowan is only a boarding school, albeit one that teaches classes of magic as well as the usual subjects and plays host to amicable ogres and over-enthusiastic hags. At the beginning of Neff's story our hero, Max McDaniels, seems nothing more than a serious young man, living with his father since the mysterious disappearance of his mother years ago. However, he soon proves to be far more, when a vision of the figures in a tapestry coming to life singles him out as a Potential. Whisked off to Rowan to join others just like him, Max meets his sickly but genius roommate David Menlo and a host of other memorable and lovable characters. However, all is not well: agents of an unknown Enemy have been kidnapping Potentials before they can reach Rowan, and Max himself was targeted on his way there.
Neff's story takes off from there, and since it has spanned four novels to date there is regrettably far too much narrative to cover in one post, even briefly. However, it is not only the storyline of The Tapestry that makes it one of the greatest little-known series in modern fantasy. As well as writing the novels Neff illustrates each chapter with beautiful black-and-white drawings, using a combination of freehand and computer techniques, and the resulting images capture perfectly the essence of their corresponding chapter and the series as a whole. Ships are tossed in high seas, mythical creatures frolic amidst bowls of fruit and stacks of books, trees are lashed by winds under stormy skies and the darker inhabitants of Neff's world cast their shadows on the walls or peer malevolently from the edges of the frame. The chapter illustrations and the chapter names themselves personify the understated romanticism that Neff weaves through his novels.
Don't just take my word for it though. Read them for yourself. My friends will tell you how irritating I can be when I want someone to read something.