Review: The Garden Maze by Isaac Anderson
The Garden Maze is a dark fairytale novella featuring a dapper rabbit with a jaded personality, evil wooden puppets, and carnivorous roses. This standalone story delivers a tale of knighthood adventure in a setting as fanciful as Oz or Wonderland.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Garden Maze. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
The Garden Maze Publisher Description:
Welcome to the Maze. You may never leave.
To escape a life of drudgery serving a bloated viscount, an aging knight and his young squire jump at the chance to enter a cursed hedge maze. Under the promise of riches, they boldly march in, only to find themselves trapped in the shifting, leafy hedges.
Monsters, wonders, and unlikely allies wait behind every corner of the beautiful and deadly Garden Maze. Will they escape before the way out closes forever? Or will they become the newest addition to a mad king’s maze of horrors?
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The cursed hedge maze is an enchanting setting that emulates the rhythm of isolated encounters as well as the dream-like flow of time seen in Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. The interactions are darker, the residents of the world more carnivorous, but they are every bit as whimsical and interesting.
The effect is a bittersweet shadow world that underscores the “lostness” of the characters while simultaneously encouraging a longing for virtuous heroes.
I loved how the simple, nameless characters became more fleshed out as they continued deeper into the maze, even as they forgot themselves. Of course, they are not really nameless, but bear plain occupation names common in fairytales.
The Knight from a country already lost; the Squire who has not taken an oath yet, but desires heroism; Missy, a girl who carries a jug which is the physical embodiment of both crushing self-condemnation and hope. None of them are a simple as the vice they stand accused of (selfishness), yet they struggle to overcome it nevertheless.
Even though the characters are presented as a bit symbolic, they are engaging and sympathetic. The Squire, in particular, feels like a real person, navigating the changing relationship between himself and the mentor he used to respect and admire.
Selfishness and Redemption
The Garden Maze has no ready allegorical conclusion or heavy-handed moral teaching, despite the cerebral feel of the characters and setting. Instead, there is a simple adventure—characters struggling against the darkness that attempts to drag them down, and good triumphing in the end.
The thematic conclusions for this dark fantasy tale are uplifting. One is as simple as, we do not need to be defined by our worst selves, but can overcome evil within and without.
SPOILER: Another, perhaps more unique take, especially for a fantasy, is a reminder that self-sacrifice for others is noble, but not easy. I particularly appreciated that the Knight, an adult who has taken an oath, took that responsibility away from the Squire, indicating that there are people (particularly children) who should not have to face that choice.
Of course, my favorite theme is always the possibility of redemption. The Knight was lost, frustrated, and bitter, but able to do something worthy of his title at then end, in a way returning to who he used to be.
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The Garden Maze is a diverting dark fantasy novella with simple, yet powerful characters and superversive themes. I certainly look forward to seeing more from Isaac Anderson!
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