In The Thicket is an epic fable of rather small proportions. Set in the large expanse of the Woodland, a place home to a variety of forest creature, the story revolves mainly around five friends: A squirrel, a fox, an elk, a beaver and a rabbit. These characters are relative “outcasts” within the confines of the Woodland. Their intelligence, special talents and square peg ideals have essentially ostracized themselves from their other clan mates and family, making things rather difficult for them. Socially, that is. Through time, tangles and some trepidation, the five all found each other and have gathered together to form a sort of secret club. This union of theirs, which is looked down upon as separate clan commingling is deemed unnatural, meets in a secret location, one that lies deep within the dense forest of the Woodland.

A thicket.

Here, in the the thicket, they come together to meet, play, tell stories, support one another, make plans and, most importantly, escape the drudgery and danger that lies back home and in the Woodland. It is a sacred and serene spot for the five friends, and it remains a well kept secret between them.

Our story begins when Oskar, the squirrel, climbs up his favorite tall oak tree to watch the sun rise. It’s how he starts everyday, even though some birds protest his arrival. This one morning, something is very different. In fact, something has gone horribly wrong. When the sun finally peeks over the mountain top, it reveals itself to be nothing more than a sunken black orb. The sun, it seems, has been blacked out.

This bizarre event not only sets Oskar off in search of his friends but inspires panic amongst the other Woodland inhabitants. After much trial and error, the five friends, Uwa (the elk), Jorty (the fox), Dobran (the beaver), Micha (the rabbit) and Oskar all come together and wonder what could cause such a phenomenon.

Being the smart and curious bunch that they are, they soon find themselves in a mystery solving adventure that takes them to all sides of the Woodland, and even beyond. The five travel into clan territory and areas they never thought they would, or even could, venture into and discover whole new worlds in their own neck of the woods. So to speak.

During all this, the bears, who essentially “govern” the Woodland, much like a lazy and dim witted aristocracy, see the sun blacking out as a means to incite enough fright amongst the weakened Woodland inhabitants to attempt a full take over once and for all. So not only is there trouble looming from the sky, but now the innocent inhabitants have to deal with the bears trying to rule them with a heavy iron paw. To make matters worse, the bears have made an allegiance with the owls. The owls, through the years, have given themselves the moniker of “wise”, as that reputation has followed them for so long, and have essentially abused that status. But really, deep down, they have the same power hungry nature as the bears. So their partnership is a lethal one.

As our five friends go exploring and investigating, they begin uncovering secrets that have gone ignored or at least concealed for countless time. Deep within the ant colony, a “magic” water spring resides which has recently been discovered by certain rogue moose that has somehow transformed them into beastly behemoths. Surrounding this particular spring is a large circular stage of sorts and on it is some kind of writing. Runes basically. No one knows what it says. No one knows how to read. Except, of course, the owls. Now our team has to venture into the inhospitable (at least to ground walkers anyway) terrain of the Order of the Birds to try and get an answer or two.

It’s here that our friends discover even darker and more profound secrets and get into a lot of trouble. This leads them to seek council with the turtles in their hermitage for spiritual evidence. More clues are unmasked here, more hints towards, what appears like, a divine intervention. At the same time, the rouge moose have teamed up with the snakes to attempt a hostile overthrow of the bears and owls, seeing as they want to rule the Woodland. Not a good thing at all.

Still, underneath the growing tension and torrent, all our furry protagonists want is answers.

The sun rises again, this time in its usual bright and warm self, only to illuminate the setting of war within the Woodland. Separate clans that have kept contempt buried for so long, finally come forth. The snakes and moose move in to subvert the bears and owls. But what about the sun? What caused that to black out? And what’s the deal with that weird spring deep inside the ant colony? How come the drinkers get so big and mean when they sip from it? What the heck do those runes say surrounding the spring? Why can’t things just go back to the way they were?

In the end, our friends realize there is a far larger and stranger power at hand, one that rules in shadow and mystery. This, they come to accept, is just the beginning of something big and enterprising for their group.

In The Thicket is a fast paced novel written for the young reader in mind yet expansive enough to be embraced by all. Combining my love of mythology, theology, classic children’s books and searing heavy metal music, this wholly original story challenges the reader into new, yet rather familiar, territory. Sure there are some dark moments, and, yeah, it’s scary here and there but, man, it’s a lot of fun!

Book one, “Black Sun Rising”, is completed and in the early stages of editing. The follow ups are being outlined and worked on as we speak.

Not exactly a fantasy novel, nor really a kids book, In The Thicket works as a piece of visionary fiction and introduces stories, characters and situations that are embraceable by a very wide audience. At the same time, it remains unique and intimate enough to make the book the reader’s own.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the mountain lions and those silly gulls! Okay, don’t even get me started on those guys.

Really, there’s actually a lot going on in this book of mine. It’s kinda better if you just read it…

– Mark Whittaker