Review of the Duncton Chronicles by William Horwood

Duncton chronicles
Duncton Chronicles covers

Duncton Wood is in my opinion one of the most under-read fantasy series in the world. I think that it is mostly overlooked as all the characters are moles. Yes moles, as in those wonderful creatures that leave little dirt mountains on your lawns. Although anthropomorphized and given their own history and a  written form of communication as well as social order. The moles of Duncton Wood are still moles and as such have no clothes, technology or weapons. In essence this is a brilliant low fantasy series. 

Duncton Wood is a true epic fantasy series in the most classic way. It is set in the fictional Duncton Wood in Great Britain where the moles of Duncton are under the rule of the rather evil  Mandrake and Rune who are actively squishing the old traditions, namely those surrounding the Duncton Stone, the center of their religion. But along comes a hero: a young mole named Bracken who leaves to find himself and a way to win his fight against the evil of Rune and Mandrake while winning the paw of his love, Rebecca, Mandrakes daughter.

The second and third books follow Rebecca’s and Bracken’s son Tryfan during a religious war with another order of moles. These are in a way more action-packed then the first in the series (which was originally a stand-alone novel, then years later Horwood wrote two more out of the blue). Some think they are not as good as the original Duncton Wood novel but I think they are different rather than worse or bad.

These two books are a new story with new characters and a new struggle. It has all one could hope for in a action packed fantasy: great battles, a grand quest, lightning and a showdown at the end with two unlikely heroes who save the day. Yes, maybe a little predictable but that is oddly part of the charm of the series. It is like a old sweater made new by the fact that you are wearing it after changing which washing powder you use.

This series has a great depth of detail and grandness like that found in such epics as Sword of Truth and Recluse. William Horwood has created a world that is filled with those events that while familiar are renewed by the point of view they are being told from. As I said, it is like a old sweater made new by the fact that you have changed washing powder brands.

Maybe that was a bad example (which I have now used twice) but I just can’t think of a better one. I read this series when I was in my early teens and it really struck me as one of those amazing fantasy series where the writing itself was part of the story, like with David Eddings, J.R.R. Tolkien or even Terry Pratchett (you didn’t think I wouldn’t mention him as some point did you?). Half the enjoyment is the language used. The way it flows and how the world is shaped but just the most simple of things like a adjective here instead of there.

And I am happy to say that it has held up. It has stood the test of time and childhood memories. The tale is just as thrilling and Bracken just as heroic as the first time I read them. His son is still a little geeky and odd and I still love them and enjoy them as one of those series that I turn to too reread now and again just like a comfy old pair of jeans (new item of clothing!).

The series consists of three novels:

It was followed a few years later by the Book of Silence, a follow-on trilogy set far into the future of the moles of Duncton Wood. (I have not read it, having just learned of its existence! But I will be as soon as I find copies.) The trilogy consists of:

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9 thoughts on “Review of the Duncton Chronicles by William Horwood

  1. Cool, thanks for posting this article! I’d never heard of this author. These novels will go on my bookshelf next to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Watership Down.

    • I am so glad that you are going to give them a try, but I do have to warn you that they are not YA or kids novels at all and do have more in common with Game of Thrones that withe The Rats of Nimh or Watership Down. In fact they are Game of Thrones but with moles… Just fair warning!

  2. Thanks for this review. I read the first trilogy and I think they are overlooked, but as you say brilliant low fantasy. It shows what you can do with characters and setting and not a lot else. I wasn’t aware of the second trilogy either, so I’ll be adding those to my to-read list.

    • Yeah I think part of the problem with Horwood’s novels being little known, is that they are thought of as kids or at the very best, YA novels, due to the fact that the characters are moles. Nothing could be further from the truth but well… People have set ideas at times 🙂

  3. Horwood is an excellent author, with the ability to balance exposition and active storytelling almost perfectly, and to create amazingly believable mythology. I keep meaning to get hold of the Duncton Chronicles and give them a read.

    • They are wroth reading at least once… As you say he has a way with words that create the most amazing pictures and mythology’s.

  4. Guys, this is honestly just one of the best, most underrated and under-read fantasy novels ever written. That’s partly due to Horwood withdrawing the book from publication in the 90s (the special edition, first time it’s been published since, is currently being crowdfunded on Unbound – join me in trying to get it published!).

    Think Lord of the Rings with moles. Watership Down with more plot, more emotional depth and a resonance that makes it hard to shake and keeps readers returning to the wood decades after they first discovered it. Just a beautiful book.

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