September 14, 2012
Child of the May by Theresa Tomlinson, Sequel to Forestwife
Magda, the daughter of Little John and Emma (deceased) has grown up in Barnsdale Forest under the care of Marian, the Forestwife. At 15, she grows restless and longs to experience life outside the forest. She gets her chance when John & Marian allow her to accompany Robin & the Merry Men on a quest to rescue the noblewoman Matilda and her daughter Isabel. They have both been imprisoned by the sheriff until Matilda agrees to allow Isabel to marry FitzRanulf, the sheriff’s bloodthirsty mercenary chief. At first stubborn and petulant, Magda grows a lot as a character as the book progresses. She learns that life outside the forest isn’t as fun and glamorous as she thought. This was a short and easy to read book- about the level of 10-13 year olds or so. But I enjoyed it as a fun adventure, as well as a story with depth and historical realism. I think older teens and adults who like Robin Hood legends and stories set in the Middle Ages would like it.
Read March 2011
March 9, 2009
The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson
Fleeing an unwanted forced marriage, orphan Mary runs away to the woods of England. She is worried about the wild creatures and outlaws that live there, but willing to take her chances. Her nurse Agnes follows her, and proves to be an essential companion and mentor, who is knowledgeable of herbal healing and wilderness survival. They become part of a community of people who live in the forest avoiding the oppression of local lords, including Agnes’ son Robert.
The idea of a Forestwife, a wisewoman healer who lives in the woods is cool, and makes sense- wouldn’t the Merry Men need a healer? And I also like the description of the seasons and what people did in preparation/reaction to them.
The story was well-told, and historical authenticity fleshed out the feel of the setting. The dialogue uses a lot of archaic words, which might be difficult for some, but I found it understandable.
It seemed like Theresa Tomlinson really did her research, and it helps that she grew up in the areas associated with the Robin Hood legends! This is part of a trilogy, the other books are Child of the May, and Path of the She-Wolf, the latter has only been published in the UK unfortunately. However it does look like there are copies available online for decent prices.
January 16, 2008
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
When I reviewed Ms. Levine’s previous novel, Ella Enchanted I said that it was a nice story but that the writer hadn’t quite found her voice yet. Well, she definitely did in Fairest. It seems to be better developed- the characters and the story are more complex, and while the Kingdom of Khyrria in Ella is a rather generic fairy-tale realm, the reader gets to explore the neighboring land of Ayortha in this book. Ayortha is a fascinating culture, where singing plays a role in all aspects of life- ceremonies, communication, magic.
The protagonist of this story is Aza, the daughter of an innkeeper. While Aza is not seen as attractive by Ayorthaian standards, she has a gorgeous singing voice. Aza goes about her rather ordinary life until by chance, a Duchess stops by the inn. Her companion has become sick, and so she chooses Aza to replace her. This path leads her eventually to become the lady-in-waiting to Queen Ivy, after she discovers Aza’s ability to throw her voice. Ivy, a native of Kyrrhia, is not much of a singer and finds herself rather out of place in a country so focussed on the art.
It’s hard to tell until one is pretty far into the book, that it is based on another classic fairy tale. Can you tell which one? Snow White. Queen Ivy seizes power when her king falls sick, and Aza is caught between her and the dangers of a magic mirror. The tale of Fairest is a deftly woven fabric, with many surprising plot twists. It’ll definitely be worth a re-read at some point.
March 31, 2007
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I was looking for a fun, light read over spring break and this certainly did the trick. There are a million cultural variants and modern retellings of Cinderella but this has an intriguing twist. For any freethinker who has wondered why Cinderella was such a wimp- why did she go along with her stepmother? Why didn’t she just run away? Well Ms. Levine has an explanation: Ella was given a “gift” by a well-meaning fairy at birth: the gift of obedience. She must obey any direct order, no matter how degrading or dangerous. Though she tries to hide it, it is often difficult to disguise. After being sent to finishing school, Ella goes on a quest to break her gift/curse.
I think the best part of this book is the characters- they are vividly described, the spunky Ella, her obnoxious stepsisters- even her prince, who is just as nontraditional as she is. There is no sappy romance here- the relationship arises between two people who have much in common. The world created for the story is interesting too, the languages for gnomes, elves, and ogres that Ella learns add much to its feel. On the world-building front, my main problem is the depiction of centaurs- centaurs are as intelligent, if not more so that humans! The ones in this book are like animals.
The plot was a fun adventure and had many turns that I did not expect. I sensed that the author was trying to tell her own story while using Cinderella as a starting point, quite successfully but that some Cinderella trappings were left in at the end (the glass slipper, pumpkin being turned into a coach- which is from Disney) that were unnecessary to the plot. But I think this was one of her first novels, and she is still trying to find her voice. I look forward to reading some of her other books, such as Two Princesses of Bamarre.
I have to say, however that my favorite modern Cinderella is Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson. It’s a picture book, but it’s just perfect. I will post a review of it later.
P.S. I have not yet seen the movie version.
November 19, 2006
Phoenix Dance by Dia Calhoun
Phoenix Dance becomes an apprentice to the royal shoemaker. When the 12 princesses keep wearing out their shoes each night, the shoemaker is blamed for making lousy shoes. The queen declares that anyone who can solve the mystery of the shoes will get a handsome reward. Phoenix takes on this challenge, while also facing her own internal problems- the Illness of Two Kingdoms, or as we call it in our world- bipolar disorder.
I found this book quite enjoyable- the story was exciting and drew me in and Phoenix is a believable, sympathetic character. Windward is an original, well-realized world with a nautical culture- it does not really have any fantasy cliches. The author is very good at writing beautiful, evocative depictions of scenery without falling prey to having them be too long.
P.D. is a companion to Calhoun’s earlier novel, Aria of the Sea– it is set in the same place, the archipelago kingdom of Windward probably about a decade later, and features a few of the same characters in the story like Cerinthe Gale and Elliana Nautilus. I read that one several years ago, and will probably have to read or look over it again in order to give it a proper review here, but it’s also a very good read- it isn’t necessary to read it before Phoenix Dance, but I would recommend it as you will get more out of it that way