Milo, a white boy with messy brown hair, drags the reader right into his story by racing through his small, traditional village, past the elderly aunts who keep an eye on him, to the small house where he lives mostly alone despite his young age. He’s determined to set out on an adventure across the forbidden lake, despite his dad’s warnings over the telephone.
Once he arrives, he runs into adventure—but not what he’d expected! Two strange, monstrous creatures appear and one is toting a mysterious bag, which he constantly threatens to eat. Milo investigates and discovers a red-headed girl in strange clothing who adamantly refuses his help. Nevertheless, Milo gets dragged into her world, literally, when they are pulled into a kind of wormhole in the lake. Stranded in a strange world, in peril from monsters and a past he’s never known, Milo not only struggles to survive, but begins to learn some of the secrets his family has hidden from him all his life.
The art in this French import reminded me irresistibly of Miyazaki’s films, especially Ponyo. The quirky old ladies, environmental destruction and renewal, and red-roofed houses will all resonate with fans of the Studio Ghibli films. However, Ferreira’s art stands alone, from the monstrous creatures hidden beneath dark cloaks, to the independent and fierce Valia who struggles to find a place she belongs. There are people living in the land beyond the lake too, small, elf-like creatures with pointed ears, in a medieval-style village. Most unique are the monsters, developed from ordinary creatures in the marsh, they become ravenous and terrifying caricatures of their natural selves, rampaging across a desolate and frightening landscape.
In some ways this is a very typical fantasy story; Milo discovers he has hidden powers and is, to some extent, the “chosen one”. There is an evil sorcerer and magical creatures who need his protection. However, the complex character of Valia and slowly unfolding backstory, not to mention the contrasts between the green and growing lands and the desolation beneath the lake, make this stand out in fantasy epics. The book is promoted as part of three stand-alone titles, and while the ending leaves room for another story, it closes most of the threads of the story.
Milo’s World, book 1: The Land Under the Lake
By Richard Marazano
Art by Christophe Ferreira
Lion Forge, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 yeras