It’s no secret that life can be tough and unyielding at times, affording us precious little opportunity to push away reality away and pretend it simply doesn’t exist.
Which is why inordinately delightful works like Lightfall (Book 1): The Girl and the Galdurian by Tim Probert are such a joyous thing to have in our world.
Full of a vibrancy of characterisation, narrative and garrulous, thrilling adventure, Lightfall is perfect escapist entertainment, ostensibly written for American middle grade students but with a huge amount to offer anyone whose inner child remembers the effervescent fun of losing yourself far from dour realms of reality.
The land of Irpa has some fearsome reality of its own it must be said, with evil creatures known as Tikarri roaming around to kill off the tenuous light that keeps this sprawling kingdom well-lit and buoyantly alive, but it is also home to characters like Beatrice aka Bea and Cadwallader, the Galdurian of the title, a frog-like person of endless enthusiasm and hopefulness who has endured some pretty terrible things but lived to smile about it anyway.
He and Bea, who lives with her adoptive grandfather Pig Wizard, operator of Salty Pig’s Tonics and Tinctures in the depths of those fairytale picture-perfect woods that make you want a fantastical tree change of your own – without the Big Bad Wolves and Hansel and Gretel-esque witches, thank you very much – don’t know each other at the start of this giddily immersive tale but soon bond to become the kind of friends for whom life is made, and without which it is all the poorer.
The way they come together springs from one of those unexpected moments in life where the status quo is humming happily along, in this case Bea gathering ingredients for her grandfather’s renowned potions, until it is upended quite spectacularly by the Pig Wizard who has seemingly vanished off the face of Irpa.
Fearing for her ever more forgetful grandfather’s safety, Bea sets off with a few weeks’ supply of honey rolls and her loyal cat Nimm, who is happier to sleep through a crisis than do anything to help resolve it, and soon discovers she might need help to complete her impulsive quest.
That help comes in the form of brilliantly upbeat Cad, who is on a quest of his own to find … the Pig Wizard!
He’s delighted that Bea is his granddaughter, and once he gets over the fact that Alfirid is a pig and Bea is a human girl, he’s super eager to help her find her only family in the world.
Of course, he needs someone who can speak and read Galdurian, a people who supposedly passed from existence some five hundred years earlier – although as Cad points out, he’s alive so clearly they’re not all gone! – so he can find his family whom he hopes are still out there somewhere.
The combination of Cad’s resourceful, capable buoyancy (he might be a jaunty extrovert but he’s more than able to take care of himself) and Bea’s intense, likeable earnestness is the perfect combination, especially when the young girl’s rampaging anxiety gets the better of her.
They complement each other beautifully, which comes in handy when you’re battling giants crabs or trying to escape hungry lizards or seeking to outwit thieving rats.
See, Irpa has its share of less than fairytale delightful inhabitants but they are part and parcel of this escapist tale which comes luminously and colourfully alive thanks to Probert’s artwork which is a marvellous joy in and of itself.
So vividly expressed are his depictions of the various landscapes and peoples of Irpa, good and bad, that you fall straight into the magical world he has created.
It is a world that feels palpably real, drawn with lusciously natural colours in the woods of Bea’s immediate home, darkly purple and grey when trouble beckons and eye-shockingly red when battle calls.
Lightfall (book 1) is a splendid blend of art and the written word, each playing into each other so adroitly and evocatively and peopled with characters so memorable, Bea and Cad, of course, chief among them, that you will want to stay in Irpa for as long as possible.
It is worth taking the time to linger over every lusciously vivid panel, take joy in every witty exchange, enjoy the company of Bea and Cad who are the best protagonist an escapism craving reader could want and be contentedly, joyously happy that life might be bleak at times but when you have a friend who has your back no matter what, every adventure becomes the kind of adventure that makes life feel like the best thing to ever happen to anyone which, when you think about it, is the perfect result of reading any story, especially one as enchantingly good at this one.