A star falls in Faërie, and is hunted by three separate individuals for their own gain. This story is an original plot line, although like other magical fantasies it combines a number of known tropes and mythologies. Like Gaiman’s Neverwhere, the audience is not well defined: the style is very much in keeping with the narrative voice and fairy-story style of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle, which makes it seem like a children’s or very young adult novel, while the content (descriptive [although not graphic] passages of a sexual nature, for example) place it on the adult shelves in most bookstores. Wikipedia asserts that this is the “first solo prose novel by Gaiman,” but I think I would consider that Neverwhere. Stardust was in the first instance a “novel with pictures,” serially published in comic/graphic novel form; then a hardcover novel without images; then a 2007 movie which, while necessarily different, is as entertaining and engaging as the print versions (in my estimation).
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 17.3.
Calyx of Teversall
My initial response to Calyx of Teversall was not entirely positive, a result of the rather stilted—rather than merely simplistic—writing style. The style continues throughout the text, but the further I read, the less it seemed to matter. The story itself should be stereotypic, but is not: while the characters encounter gnomes and fairies and there is an evil Rumplestiltskin-like creature after our protagonist, Maia Appleby keeps her plot and characters fresh and lively. We really come to like and respect young Calyx (formerly Charles), his mother, and the aunt and uncle who take him in and hide his identity.
Calyx is protected by fairy magic in his youth—one reason the Borgh elf Fenbeck wants to capture him. This magic is augmented by his naturally cheerful and friendly disposition, and he eventually gains access to trading directly with the gnomes, who are master jewellers and gem-cutters. Calyx is taught their trade, and would be set for a life of honest, lucrative labour with his antique-shop owner uncle, were it not for the return of Fenbeck, who discovers his whereabouts. In order to overcome Fenbeck, and return him to his original beaver form (now there’s a lovely Canadian twist!), Calyx must learn Fenbeck’s true name…
This is a simple story, but one that pleases in its straight-forward narration and honest character development. In the end, Calyx’s trust and honesty—and the help of the fairies—help remove the threat of Fenbeck, and all works out for the best.
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 16.1.
Robin Muller’s version of the Celtic folktale of Tam Lin and Janet (here Tamlynne and Elaine) is richly decorated and illustrated, wrapping the story in layers of magic and mystery. The language Muller uses lightens the depths of the folktale, rendering it accessible to younger readers, presenting it as a more classic fairy tale of elves and magic than the original Irish myth, in which young Janet’s arrogance is rewarded with an unexpected child. In Muller’s The Nightwood, Elaine’s grievance is against her father, the Earl of March, who still considers her a child; like young readers, she only wants to prove herself “grown-up.” Refused permission to dance at her father’s ball, she runs to the Nightwood to dance with the færies. The story follows the folktale fairly faithfully: she and Tamlynne fall in love; she returns to her father’s house and pines for him; she escapes and seeks him out, only to learn that he is mortal, captive to the Elfin Queen’s magic, and destined to die; she learns there is a way to save him, but only at risk of her own life; in the end, she succeeds and they marry. Overall, the beauty of Muller’s illustration and the magic of the romantic tale weave together to present a captivating and timeless tale.
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 14.3.
Another modern interpretation of the Cinderella story, Broken presents us with Ash Perrault, whose refreshing adolescent voice teenage readers will be certain to identify with. Ash is being saddled with the requisite step-mother and two step-sisters, but ultimately learns that “step-” is not invariably preceded by “evil.” In fact, the “perfect” step-sister is not only socially supportive of Ash, but has issues of her own. Nonetheless, combined with normal adolescent angst fostered by Ash’s crush on the most popular boy in school, his ex-girlfriend’s antagonism, Ash’s best-friend’s lack of understanding, Ash’s life has become too complicated. On top of all this, glass has a nasty habit of shattering when she is around (hence the title…). If you can get past the marked similarities between Ash’s affliction and Roald Dahl’s Matilda’s power, and the parallel between her relationship with Mouse, her best friend, and Mia’s with Lily in the movie version of The Princess Diaries, the plot is sufficiently captivating. While there is no single element that stands out as earth-shatteringly original, Alyxandra Fitzhenry manages to combine aspects of many young, teenaged girls’ lives into a unique situation, lived by a unique character. She also manages to have an obvious amount of fun in creating her tale, lacing her insight into adolescents’ troubles with subtle and not-so-subtle intertextual allusions (the protagonist’s name, for example) to keep reader’s thinking of more than just the plot.
Illustrated by Dušan Petričić.
This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 17.1.
When Apples Grew on Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean
The Tales of Ti-Jean travelled from France to North America with the first explorers, and have grown into the French Canadian stories Jan Andrews here presents us with. The first story, “Ti-Jean and the Princess of Tomboso,” was in fact translated back from “Ojibwa tellers who, presumably, had heard it from the voyageurs” (Note on Sources). As Andrews points out in the introduction, “Ti-Jean” stories are legion: “many, many people have created stories about him over the years” (11). When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew presents three, all of which are lively and delightful. Lovers of folktale will especially appreciate the seeming newness of the tales; they are completely different from the more well-known folktale plots, despite a full complement of folktale characteristics: objects and events in groups of three; magic as part of everyday life; trickery triumphed over by the simple, “everyman” hero, Ti-Jean.
In “Ti-Jean and the Princess of Tomboso,” Ti-Jean is initially duped by the Princess, but eventually gets his wits together to triumph over her. In “Ti-Jean the Marble Player,” his self-assurance leads him to seek the magical Bonnet Rouge, whom he must outwit to save his life. This he can only do with the help of Bonnet Rouge’s sisters and youngest daughter. In “How Ti-Jean Became a Fiddler,” his humility is contrasted with the self-assurance of his older brothers, whom he must save from prison with magical gifts given to him for his hard work and honesty. In all three tales, basic human values are lauded; arrogance and dishonesty are punished; and the simple hero, Ti-Jean, triumphs through his hard work, honesty, and simple approach to life.
An added benefit in the text is the inclusion of “A Word about Ti-Jean” and “A Note on Sources,” which situate the tales within a larger folkloric tradition and reveal their importance in the history of North American folklore.