I read this book, and others in the series, when I was approximately eight years old and I can honestly say that no other series of child/young adult novels has had a more significant or beneficial impact on my life. The Edge Chronicles are rich, inventive, bursting with imagination and deal maturely with complex issues in a manner engaging for children. The hand-wringing over the violence in this book completely misses the point and is honestly quite sad. Children are not as fragile as parents like to believe, they are able to process and deal with violence within fiction often in manners far more mature than many adults, and dealing with these difficult themes within a fantasy context allows them a "safe space" as it were to come to terms with the harsh realities of life, from which, one way or another, their parents will ultimately never be able to shield them.
What's the quote again? "Children already know there's a monster under the bed; stories teach them that the monster can be slain". I feel in cases such as this, that is an important adage to keep in mind.
Back to the book itself... firstly, the accusations of Stormchaser being "overlong" are actually quite ridiculous, and I can't even think of where they're coming from. If an adult reader is bored by the book and as such perceives it as being "overlong" then all well and good for them, but I was under the impression that this site was aimed at gauging what a child or teenager would enjoy. This is the demographic that can lap up the entirety of Harry Potter 5 in a single sitting and love every moment of it; I really don't think conciseness is an issue for any child reader. Also, literally every paragraph of that book adds to the plot, there is no extraneous scenes there at all.
Concerning the morality and the "message" of this story... "children can explore themes of good and evil in this book" really, really doesn't cover it. In fact, "good versus evil" can't even be said to be relevant in this book, with the exception of Vilnix Pompolnius, the primary antagonist. Even then, his motivation- discovering how to produce more phraxdust and so provide the people of Undertown with clean water- can be viewed in a somewhat sympathetic light, particularly given his status as an outsider in a classist, highly conservative society. As for the character of Screed, the cause of most other reviewers' distress over this book... to consider him "evil" is an incredibly shallow reading of a highly complex character. In the character of Screedius Tollinix we find an incredibly cynical yet highly necessary deconstruction of the easy, comfortable tropes all too common in fiction and reality- that duty and dedication to a cause are moral ideas in and of themselves and that the the truest of intentions and the noblest of causes can never lead an individual towards a moral wrong. This deconstruction is further subverted by the fact that Screedius' immoral actions ultimately *do* end up saving the city of Sanctaphrax.
Sanctaphrax, as portrayed in Stormchaser, can itself be considered a highly complex moral quandary- a city of immense beauty and knowledge and aspiration, yet also of decadence, cruelty and prejudice. A city which feeds off Undertown below it, and the labour of the common people, the parasitic imagery compounded by the fact that the stormphrax delivered there by Twig at the end (ultimately saving the city) is literally gained at the expense of the lives of thousands of innocent people. Furthermore, at the end of the book, while the overthrow of Vilnix, the vicious tyrant, is clearly a positive event, both the manner of his death and the fact that the city is then returned to the old-school order of overly-traditional and myopically privileged academics, with no real ethical evolution of Sanctaphrax society taking place. While this moral message may seem too cynical and depressing, it is vital for young people to explore literature where morality is not always clear-cut and ambiguity is celebrated. The ability to think critically about the actions and motivations of characters is an essential lesson which can be gained easily and safely from fiction before needing to be applied to the real world.
Furthermore, it is easy to argue that a certain level of cynicism is revoked by Twig's act of selflessness at the end of the book- as the sole possessor of the secret to making phraxdust he could easily have exploited the vulnerable people of Undertown, but instead he chose to share the secret with Undertown residents, thus ensuring safe water for all. This, and other aspects of the novel, can be considered to have a strong anti-industrialist and anti-capitalist theme- the environmental message of the Edge series rarely comes through clearer than it does when discussing the issue of the production of chains for Sanctaphrax and the pollution of the Edgewater river as a result of this. The unsustainable nature of such industry and the corruption and vested interest of both the academics and, most importantly, the leaguemasters (who can be thought of as a metaphor for the way in which government and the corporate world are heavily entwined, to the detriment of the common people) is made all too clear. Young people can use the messages in this book to explore these very pressing real-world issues and to decide how they would (or, should I say, *will*) react when faced with such issues. Will they act like the professors of light and darkness, clinging to the old traditions and ignoring the real world in favour of ivory-tower abstractions, or like Vilnix Pompolnius and Splytho Spleethe and pragmatically carve a place out for themselves in a changing world, despite signs that their actions are equally unsustainable? Or will they take the route of Twig, and seek to do only what is right, refusing to be taken advantage of while still ensuring that the helpless and the innocent are protected and provided for? That is the ultimate moral lesson in Stormchaser, and one which every child would stand to learn. Refuse to let your child read this book for fear of violence if you must, but at least be aware of what you are depriving them of.