Duncton Quest by William Horwood (The Duncton Chronicles: Book 2)

Duncton Quest is the sequel to the worldwide bestseller Duncton Wood. Forming part of The Duncton Chronicles, this 917-page book is followed by Duncton Found, which completes the original trilogy. Duncton Quest was first published in Great Britain by Century in 1988.

When Tryfan, son of Bracken and Rebecca, returns to the sacred Burrows of Uffington, it is to find dreadful signs of death and destruction. For out of the chilly North have swarmed the grikes, a fanatical tribe of warrior moles bent on destroying all believers in the powers of the Stone.
Brave Tryfan’s duty is clear – to muster and protect the few remaining Stone followers from the evil that seems certain to engulf them. With only a frail and timid mole named Spindle for company, he sets off on an epic journey…

Duncton Wood was a wonderful book and so is its sequel. William Horwood does not take the easy path in keeping with the characters that readers would know and love from the first book but presents a whole new cast charged with enthralling the characters as their predecessors did. The animal kingdom is savage and brutal and this is forever the case in Duncton Quest, a far darker and brooding book than the far from light-hearted prequel. Death, disease and the loss of hope and faith are the themes that stand out, any small success or happiness comes at a cost. In Tryfan and Spindle we are given lead characters that are as memorable as Bracken and Boswell, Henbane every bit as menacing as the evil Mandrake.

Spindle got to his paws and backed a little in awe.
’Who art thou?’ he asked, again in the old way. ‘From where hast thou come?’
‘We have come from Duncton, which is one of the Seven Systems,’ replied Boswell. ‘To Uffington have we been bound these many long and troubled years. I am myself of Uffington. I am a scribemole. My name is Boswell and we will do you no harm.’
Then Spindle simply stared at Boswell, all his feigned aggression gone and replaced by a look on his face of pathetic vulnerability as if, after many years of being brave, he had finally admitted that he was much afraid, and much alone. His mouth trembled and his eyes filled with tears, and then he lowered his snout into his front paws and began to sob with such sadness mingled with joyful relief that tears came to the eyes of Tryfan as well.

I had expected to have closure on the lives of Bracken and Rebecca but this was not forthcoming. Although they are referenced in the story we are not told whether they lived to ripe old age and died peacefully in their sleep, this is left to the reader’s imagination. The writing of William Horwood is once again excellent with his passion and knowledge shining through every chapter. Although written in 1988 the book holds a lot of resonance in 2008. The effects of mankind on the environment, in particularly the effects of cars (or roaring owls as the moles call them) are shown as unnatural and damaging, never has this been so much in the public conscience as today. The moles way of life is as much under threat from man as it is from the invading grikes.

Tryfan’s journey leads him throughout England and Wales, following the mysterious Stones that are worshiped by the moles. His path leads him to London and here Horwood paints a nightmarish vision of how the largest city in England would appear to a non-human. It is portrayed as a place of filth, disease and decay where anything of natural beauty is destroyed to make way for more motorways or bypasses. Tryfan is forced to fight and kill but as his journey reaches its end he realises that fighting will not solve any problems and that only through love and understanding can peace be found. These parts of the book reminded me strongly of Ghandi and the non-aggressive stance he took when asking the English to leave his homeland.

At the same time, as they travelled on, they found evidence that Dunbar, if it had been he, had aged as he made these great lost works. The scribings were no longer as high up the walls as they had been, and the talons were rougher, and the scribings less deep. The style changed as well, becoming freer and without the detail of the earlier chambers. Yet the sounds improved, as if Dunbar was beginning to find the very essence of what he wanted.

The thing that I would have most like to have found in the Duncton books was illustrations. I must admit that I had difficulty in imagining the tunnels and chambers that the moles lived in and would have loved to have seen William Horwood’s mental images brought to life. A sequel should either maintain the standard or ideally improve upon it and Duncton Quest has managed the latter. The character development is strong, the narrative elegant. The main themes running through the book are religion, faith, courage and love. The story is deeply moving and will reduce the average reader to tears at least once.

Duncton quest is an elegant tale of faith, courage and love.

9/10 Duncton quest is an elegant tale of faith, courage and love.

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2 positive reader review(s) for Duncton Quest

Duncton Quest reader reviews

from Durham, North England

While Duncton Wood is a superb and unique book, it was still Horwood's first novel. Aspects both of pacing and of the identification of the society of moledom were not as clear cut in that work as they could've been, fantastic though it is. Duncton Quest however is Horwood's return to the world of Moledom, carrying with him another eight years of experience as a writer, experience he puts to great use hear. Duncton Quest has a rather unique idea for a sequel, and one which is quite bold but at the same time once it is understood is a natural progression. Firstly in its characters, duncton Quest has a completely different protagonist in Tryfan. Tryfan is in many ways a more mature character than his father Bracken was, showing both that he learnt from his father and also the greater training he received as novice scribemole under the Tuition of Boswell. this means that Horwood is not repeating the events of the first book or it's conflicts, but rather presenting an entirely new conflict to his characters. Where the first book in many ways dealt with an almost entirely isolated community, with much of its conflict coming from weather, predators and plague, as well as solitary tyrants who gained power through physical strength, in Duncton quest Horwood gives us the entirely reasonable idea that such devastations allowed a dogmatic and bloody system of religious belief to seize power, imposing their own will and wreaking havoc on many familiar places from Uffington to siabod and of course Duncton itself. This was an entirely bold move, but at the same time one which introduced far more complex and unique conflicts into the story, such as Tryfan's own struggle with finding a none violent way, or still worse the mix of dark attraction he feels for Henbane, leader of the Grikes, not to mention both Trifan and Spindle's rather different and quite unique conflicts with each other and the ones they love. Another aspect of Characterization where Horwood needs to be commended is his depiction of villainy. henbane, her subordinates and her life story are picked out in truly chilling detail. Like Mandrake before her she is a complex and many faceted character, but one who still has an awesome and intimidating presence (her first passage of introduction is one of the most awesome I've seen for any villain). In particular I greatly admire Horwood for his bucking of trends of female leaders in representing Henbane as just as powerful, politically astute, martially destructive and physically intimidating as Rune or Mandrake. Whereas often female villains can degenerate into sly succubus figures ruled by their appetites, Henbane gives up none of her integrity or competence as a leader whatever her appetites or perversions might be. This is doubly unique in the modern era in which even such a powerful and intimidating female character as Lewis' White witch was reduced to a simpering doll in her Hollywood appearance. In one respect also Horwood must be commended for plot, since two of his characters, Boswell and Rune do survive into this book, but he freely and quite boldly states in the narration that their survival is unexplained and somewhat mystical. As with his frank descriptions of emotions which in the hands of a lesser author would seem clunky and childish, this is something that only horwood could get away with in the supreme and masterful way he does. It cannot be denied however that Boswell did create one of the books few possible errors with the previous volume, in the way the wise, but all too human (or mole), scribe transformed into an almost divine figure. while the ending of Duncton Wood hinted at such divinity, I did not feel Boswell Literally embodied it as Duncton Quest implies. The social aspects of the work, from the rigid and militaristic imposition of the grikes and their beliefs to the generalship of mole armies is also far better represented than in Duncton Wood, with many of the books' events such as the massacre of prisoners at a hated goo lag, prophecies concerning a saviour and the Grikes wanton destruction of many sacred mole texts, (rather like the burning of the library at Alexandria), harping back to the worst conflicts of holy wars and crusades from human history. Horwood's writing style, ---- never slack, also showed greater promise. Duncton quest is a far more compact work, for all that it still spans a long period of time, and Horwood's descriptions of everything from the natural world, to the brutalities and perversions of the grikes, to the tragic death of several characters or religious experiences are all drawn with beautiful and perfect detail, and just as in Duncton wood Horwood shows us both the best, and indeed the worst that moles can be, from faith to darkness, both in redemption and in damnation. I only personally have two issues with Duncton Quest, much as I deeply admire the book (it's probably my favourite of the hole Duncton series). The first is the belief opposed to the stone. This is called the word, ---- a title which, if you ignore it's Christian connotations does make perfect sense being set against the stone who's most mystical attribute is silence. The grikes who follow the word are represented as a mixture of cerebral perverts, cold zealots, power hungry political schemas, no nonsense military moles and thuggish guards. Horwood is far too clever a writer to have such Grike moles simply as an evil order, and in not a few places it is shown that moles of the Word do change and end up on the side of write. One problem however, is that while Horwood certainly does not intend the stone to be simply good, and has plenty of examples of bad natured stone followers (a theme he returns to, particularly in the second Duncton trilogy), nowhere are there any moles who's belief in the word causes them to act charitably, indeed The Word is only ever represented as a system of punitive justice and flagellation, and while some moles throughout both Duncton Quest and its sequel turn away from worship of the Word, they always either espouse the stone, or at least become reasonably agnostic. This also puts the spirit of religious toleration which Tryfan argues for both towards the end of Duncton Quest and more completely in its sequel in a rather odd light, since if no Mole of true faith or charity can follow a given belief, why should! there be need for toleration. I am quite surprised that a writer as sensitive to the nature of religion and mystical experience as William Horwood did not pick up on this fact, particularly given his far more graded depiction of belief in The Stone. Also, after several rereadings I do note one inconsistency which Horwood himself probably missed, the naming of the 7 ancient systems of moledom. Admittedly, these were only named once in Duncton Wood, however having the reshuffling did seem a little odd to me since it almost felt as if Horwood reshuffled things to give the principle locations of the book a good bit more prominence in his world. Finally, one problem with Duncton Quest is rather similar to that experienced by Tolkien, the book is too short. Often Horwood will place a character in a given situation (and in the case of one character quite a dire one), and simply leave them there for a considerable period while we trek off after Tryfan and Spindle. While there probably wasn't a way around this, there are certainly scenes, characters and situations in Duncton Quest which I would've well liked to see more of, but which unfortunately don't get their full attention, though given the massive and epic scope of the book this is not too surprising. Duncton Quest is over all a truly monumental novel, and one which sets up its sequel, albeit once again that will take place in another generation. From the filthy tunnels of the human cities, to the dark places of the grikes or back to the ancient stone of Duncton wood, the book has a truly epic and beautiful scope, and one which I would highly recommend to anyone. This is Horwood, a naturalistic and sensitive author right at the top of his form and is therefore distinctly not to be missed.
10/10 ()

from Perthshire

Duncton Quest is an admirable successor to Duncton Wood. It is an even darker book, beautifully written with a very strong theme of faith running through the narrative. Readers who enjoyed Duncton Wood will very much enjoy this, in fact I thik it is better. A superb fantasy book, truly compelling with ability to move you to tears. This Duncton Chronicles would make a wonderful film.
10/10 ()

9.8/10 from 3 reviews

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