After stealing the hearts of middle-grade girls with her delightful Newbery Honor-winning Cinderella retelling, Ella Enchanted
, Gail Carson Levine here creates a fairy tale of her own and gives it a characteristic grrrl-power twist. Twelve-year-old Addie admires her older sister Meryl, who aspires to rid the kingdom of Bamarre of gryphons, specters, and ogres. Addie, on the other hand, is fearful even of spiders and depends on Meryl for courage and protection. Waving her sword Bloodbiter, the older girl declaims in the garden from the heroic epic of Drualt to a thrilled audience of Addie, their governess, and the young sorcerer Rhys. But when Meryl falls ill with the dreaded Gray Death, Addie must gather her courage and set off alone on a quest to find the cure and save her beloved sister. Addie takes the seven-league boots and magic spyglass left to her by her mother and the enchanted tablecloth and cloak given to her by Rhys--along with a shy declaration of his love. She prevails in encounters with tricky specters (spiders too) and outwits a wickedly personable dragon in adventures touched with romance and a bittersweet ending. Young fans of princess stories will gobble this one up. (Ages 10 to 14) --Patty Campbell
From Publishers Weekly
Levine (Ella Enchanted) enters a world of high fantasy with this latest princess tale, peopled with sorcerers, elves and fairies, but plot twists win out over character development. When teenage narrator Addie was two years old, and her sister, Meryl, just three, the siblings lost their mother to the Gray Death, a mysterious illness that continues to plague the kingdom of Bamarre, randomly selecting its victims. Meanwhile, under their monarch father's weak rule, "ogres, gryphons, specters and dragons... were slaughtering hundreds of Bamarrians every year." When the Gray Death strikes Meryl, Addie becomes determined to find the cure. Rhys, a sorcerer who fancies Addie, outfits her with a cloak ("It's not a cloak of invisibility," he tells her, "but if you're in shadow... you won't be noticed") and a tablecloth that produces food on demand; Bella, the girls' tutor, bequeaths to her gifts from their mother, seven-league boots ("the boots go seven leagues when you take a step") and a spyglass that can view a distance of seven leagues and also penetrate stone and wood. Despite Addie's myriad adventures (an encounter with a specter, an ogre and a dragon) and the courage she gains throughout, her character remains an enigma. Other subplots, such as Rhys and Addie's courtship, are not fully developed. Even after the heroine completes her mission (Levine plants clues to its outcome with a Beowulf-like poem interspersed throughout the novel), readers may feel let down. Ages 10-up.
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