Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (The Mirrorscape Trilogy: Book 1)

7/10 A colourful and energetic fantasy adventure.

When Mel becomes an apprentice to a master painter, he discovers not only two good friends – Wren and Ludo – but the secret world of the Mirrorscape. A world that mirrors the painting's canvas, where strange people, fantastical inventions and dangerous creatures come to life. A world where swivel-headed butlers fight in houses with legs, and pyramid mazes reverse time. Mel and his friends must now prepare for a battle where the humble paintbrush is a deadly weapon…

Mike Wilks first made his name as a highly talented illustrator; publishing two bestsellers in The Ultimate Noah's Ark and The Ultimate Alphabet. His recent transition to writing has resulted in Mirrorscape, a vivid fantasy adventure containing angels, paintings and talking houses.

There is much to enjoy in Mirrorscape, the vibrant imagination that has made Mike Wilks's drawings and paintings so popular comes across well in the written word. The concept behind Mirrorscape is an intriguing one. Our hero, Mel, lives in a world where “luxuries” are controlled by five governing bodies (named the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Mystery). The First Mystery has dominion over touch; the Second Mystery has control over the sense of smell. The Third Mystery has authority over hearing; the Fourth Mystery has power over taste. The Fifth and unquestionably most villainous Mystery have command over colour and control it with an iron fist.

Mel is a gifted young artist but his talent brings the Fifth Mystery down on himself and his home village. He is taken away to study (and for his own safety) where he embarks on a time of learning and adventure that leads him to discover secret worlds, magic, excitement, great friendship and even greater danger.

Mirrorscape is told using a descriptive and flowing narrative. There are three very different sections to the book. The first part deals mostly with Mel's home life and sets the scene for the story. The second (and most enjoyable) part follows Mel as he begins his apprenticeship in the art of drawing. Here he meets friends, and of course, enemies. He discovers secret worlds within the paintings themselves…

This all leads up to the third part of the book where we visit theses worlds within the paintings and this is where things begin to unravel somewhat. Wilks really allows his imagination to run wild, and while this is commendable and what the fantasy genre encourages, there still has to be structure and rules adhered to. However, the aforementioned structure and rules go missing in a wild ride of colour, invention and chaos where the narrative becomes too difficult to believe and the result is often a lack of tension as you know that, whatever predicament our heroes find themselves in, it is likely that they will be able to get out quite nicely thank you.

Having said that, the best moment of the book is when Mel and friends first enter a painting, one of their own creations, and one where their mistakes have turned into monsters.

“Mel looked desperately around the nondescript landscape. It looked somehow thicker in one direction and the pair set off that way, hoping it was the wall.
But it was another mistake.
This hastily erased error was transforming itself into a second nightmare creature with long legs supporting a hard carapace. Antennae, as slender as whips, sprouted from the top in place of eyes, and two mantis-like arms hung down in front.”
The Ill-Conceived World
Mirrorscape is a novel that will definitely stay in the mind long after being read; a colourful and energetic read (though at almost six hundred pages perhaps a little too long). It also seems a shame that Wilks did not illustrate the novel himself as this could really have helped to bring the narrative further to life.

Mike Wilks has had eight books of illustration work published, two of which were bestsellers, including The Ultimate Alphabet, which was in the Sunday Times bestseller chart for 57 weeks, sold 750,000 copies worldwide. The BBC made an award-winning documentary about his work in the early 90s and there have been four one-man exhibitions of his work. As well as being bought by collectors across Europe and the US (Sir Tim Rice is among his many fans), his work has been acquired by the V & A in London and by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Mike lives in London and has been creating the world of Mirrorscape for a number of years.

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