The Spider Tree: Vanessa Mulvaney
Imagine living in a world where nothing grows, where plants cannot survive. Imagine a world devoid of color, kindness and love. Imagine a world where the only smells that are permeated are those of decay, death, urine, the stench of rotted food, dust fills the air and the only way to survive is to live off of whatever scraps you are handed. No, this is not an imaginary place. It exists as author Vanessa Mulvaney takes you inside the walls of this dingy, dark and dank place called: Briar Orphanage, a place that no one should enter and everyone should try to escape. The children living in this horrific place live in fear of starvation, abuse, beatings, and hopelessness. Madame Briar is sadistic, demonic and cruel. With her evil smile, her magic, her private agenda, Madame Briar comes up against Void and what happens between them will alert readers that he is more than he seems, concerned about saving Dallas and the end result is whether Dallas Lawson will heed the warnings and understand his need destiny. Learning the truth behind his parent’s death is devastating as Void explains the reality behind the accident that took their lives, the uncle that made sure he was left with nothing, stealing his family’s fortunes and leaving him to rot behind the walls of Brian Orphanage. Scaring, brutalizing and terrorizing children bring a smile to the face of this wicked witch. Secrets, lies, deceits and betrayals follow her as Dallas forms a strange alliance with a single Wolf Spider, who decides use him to replace her as a warrior for the Spider Nest. A world that can only be entered through the portal or gateway in the backyard of the orphanage in a special place within the Spider Tree that stands tall covered with webs in a dark and dingy spot. Imagine trying to convince Dallas to leave, enter the portal and live among insects and then fight along side of them. But, when all seems lost, his best friend Ellie is tortured and then gone because Madame Briar found her expendable, Dallas becomes part of an army that is fighting for survival. Referred to as a Human or Titan, Dallas meets many insects when he falls to the ground, tastes real water for the first time and enters a world that would do more than astound him. Two different worlds yet really the same where people argue, battle, fight for power and position and hope to survive. In our world it’s wars against foreign countries that take our soldiers in this world it is dreaded Wasps that are most dangerous. But, the dialogue is filled with sarcasm, humor, heartfelt as Dallas enters a world filled with danger, intrigue and just might learn the real meaning of loyalty, trust and friendship before all the wars are said and done but not before he meets and has an audience with the Queen Spider. Enter Agent True Heart his second savior after arriving there and meeting the potato beetle bug Sprucie who gave her life for him.
Entering the world of Anthropoda and meet the Spider Queen, the soldiers, the army, Colonel Marik who dislikes Dallas from the start and Agent True Heart his savior, mentor and protector. But, prejudice reigns even in this realm you might say as we learn more about the many different spiders, their jobs. Not wanting a Titan or Human living in the Nest nor thinking Dallas capable of protecting their lair, they provide many obstacles in his way. Bullying Dallas from the start, Marik makes it blatantly clear that he does not belong there, does not want him to join the Nexus army. Dallas is smart, resourceful but lacks self-confidence but made a promise to the wolf spider to fight because she trusted him. Making a difference is all that matters to him but every step of the way you will find that the world of spiders is really not much different than ours.
The author brings readers into the world of spiders tilled with wonders you have never seen before. From combating insects to a pool of dangerous bass, an army of ants and bees Dallas refuses to give up and wants to prove his worth for being freed from the fangs of Madame Briar.
But, True teaches him the meaning of friendship, trust and loyalty. Anthropoda is where spiders rule the world; plants are their shelter, their food, friends and even their enemies. The special thing that gives the plants their properties and helps them to survive she explains to Dallas is Manna. Manna gives the plants so vividly described by the author their special properties. True explained to Dallas that Manna is powerful and must be respected she also told him that it is never to be touched or tampered with. While Dallas beings to comprehend the information he is in awe of his surroundings. Never wanting to go back to Wales and be a pawn of Madame Briar he is determined to fight, become a brave warrior and not let True down. Risking her life for his and placing herself in danger, Dallas realizes that she is truly his friend. But, Dallas feels defeated at times unwanted and out place. Throughout the novel the spiders poke fun at him, call him names, refuse to accept him and undermine what he is trying to do. Defending the wolf-spider, not allowing Marik to hunt down Shorra and have her killed for sending Dallas in her place, did not endear him with too many others but the fast paced novel filled with interesting twists and turns allows younger readers, young adults and adults to see what happens when a 13 year old teen is determined to prove his worth, not let anyone get him down and finish what he started. Imagine a place that is so huge, filled with stalactites that light up the world within, the Nest, leaves that are neon green in color, and strands of purple, blue, pink and yellow hang from the branches swinging in the breeze. A world filled with so many wonders yet unchartered for Dallas.
The author’s research into spiders had to be extensive as we learn about fishing spiders, jumping spiders, wolf spiders, how they search for food and survive. But, the real demons are the Wasps and they are at the center of the war that these spiders need to win. Crap spiders camouflage themselves, jumping spiders search fro their food, fishing spiders jump their prey. But, there is so much more that Dallas will experience before finding out whether this is where he belongs or should he go back to the orphanage?
Entering True’s world, living in her part of the Nest, learning to hunt food, fend for himself he next meets the queen he presents him with a challenge. Would the Queen think that he was capable of fighting for their cause against the Wasps? Would she allow him to remain or find a way to open the portal and send him back? Within the pages of Chapter 12 the author shares the beauty of the Nest and then we learn about the many branches of services and that Dallas has to enlist in one. Just like the armed forces here he had to decide between the Army, Navy and Air Force and be trained from the bottom as a soldier. The author shares the information about each branch, which runs it and the pros and cons of each one as Dallas makes his choice but will it be the right one for him? Corporal True Heart, or True is a Leaplurker under the rule of General Tulsa. As True settles Dallas in her cell, she leaves him to make her report of the events that preceded his arrival. Listening she gets mixed reviews and accusations are made about her decision to bring a Human to Anthropoda. Knowing that Shorra was an X-member and defected you might say in their eyes, they felt she should not have risked the sanctity and safety of the Nest or the other spiders for one. Reasons given, an old law that was never revoked enforced and decisions are made. Within pages 187-188 we hear many voices that express opinions as well as the strong voice of True who defends what she did and will not back down.
Dallas is determined to become part of their life, learns to eat bugs, wears the proper armor and finds himself in class with baby spiders but first let’s meet the Queen who was flanked with many guards in the form of tarantulas. W magnificent sight wearing the royal garb the Queen entertains Dallas, True in her court. But, what happens will surprise readers as you begin to think you are in a courtroom in our world and sentence is about to be passed even before the case if presented. Entering the room he and True are told the proper protocol and then the Queen speaks. What happens is private and I cannot reveal what is said in the court so that you will have to learn for yourself as the Queen hands out a mission to Dallas and his fate is sealed. Meet the nursery spiders and Mrs. Birdsong his instructor. This is priceless as he learns from the start that these small little spiders are smart, tricky and will do anything to throw him more curve balls. But, things begin to change and as he attempts to become a warrior many dangerous situations come his way as he has many more lessons, we begin to explore the planet and see the lush green leaves, the plants and experience the landscape. But, one spider named Fisher would enlighten Dallas as about an incident that cost True her ranking six years before and many things would come into place as he begins to understand why Marik dislikes him and will do anything to make him disappear or worse.
As danger arrives Dallas leaves the group, Fisher and the baby spiders and is now on his own as he encounters a cottonmouth snake and has to find a way to survive. Will he be able to defend himself or will the snake swallow him whole? What did Fisher tell him about True that changed everything? Where will he wind up and why does he feel that no one wants him around? When the final battle is fought and he is left to his own devices what happens will alert readers that the story is far from over, the dangers are real, the deceits, lies and betrayals run high as Dallas Lawson’s greatest fears come true.
What happened to True? Will she be there for him? Where does he wind up? The answers are in the computer, pen or manuscript that our creative and talented author is hopefully penning as we read this uniquely crafted novel. Two different worlds that are different yet so much the same. A tree that links two worlds filled with webs, wonders and sights within it that no one would believe. Who will win? What is next? Trust, love, a home and hope for his future: Will Dallas ever find it?
Fran Lewis: Reviewer