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The Seventh Magpie Paperback – February 13, 2015
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About the Author
Nancy Chase writes fantasy, sci-fi, fairy tales, and paranormal fiction, often inspired by mythology, dreams, folklore, or history. Born in Maine, she now lives in Virginia, USA, with her husband and an ever-changing family of pets.
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We begin the tale when Princess Catrin is a young child, and witness both her mother's mysterious and terrible disappearance, and the gifting of a bejeweled golden book to Catrin. Chase expertly takes us through Catrin's early years, navigating the important points of the ensuing twelve years while Catrin grows up with exceptional pacing, the magical book locked away from her. At no point does the story lag, and soon enough Catrin has her book back, as she journeys home to a wedding she does not want. And, in those first moments of having the book back in her hands, Catrin ignores the warnings she was given...
In the aftermath of the effects of her decision, Catrin sets out to recover the book from the magical Magpies who initially gave it to her mother. Each day, for seven days, she must solve a riddle set by them. But there are two sides to every riddle, two sides to every story, two sides to every person.
My only frustration in this story was that I felt that, in dealing with the Magpies, Catrin was a slightly different person--rude, impatient, almost violent. She felt immature in those scenes in a way that she did not through the rest of the book. I realize that in those scenes she was also facing the creatures that she believed stole her mother from her, but her approach in how she dealt with them didn't shift / develop at all until the very end. I loved Catrin through out the book, except for those scenes.
For the lyrical beauty of the prose alone, this is a fantastic read. For the story itself, it is a definite read. Highly recommend.
In it, we witness young Princess Catrin sent away from her home and her father in the wake of her mother's mysterious disappearance, left with a single token to remind her of what she left behind: a golden book, containing The Best Story in the World. It comes at a price, though—she can read but one page a day. The book, however, is confiscated for twelve long years, and when she finally has the chance to read it again, she defies this warning—to the loss of all she loves. Striking a bargain with seven devilish magpies, she sets out to redeem her losses, and save her life.
So begins a tale of grief, despair, magic and mystery. Like the best fairy tales, there are riddles, and here they come with a twist: always two answers, one black and one white. There are quests, knights, giants, and a princess whose salvation lies in none, and all, of their hands. There are fantastic places, both glorious and evil, inhabited by creatures of pure imagination, traditional yet novel at the same time.
I can't begin to say how much I enjoyed this book, marvelously illustrated by the talented Katrina Sesum. Nancy has managed to create a living, breathing world that, whilst borrowing from and settling in comfortably among the canon of traditional folk stories, remains remarkably different and fresh. The language is crafted beautifully and meticulously, and there is as much unsaid as said. Not a word goes to waste, and as an author I appreciate the difficulty of this style of writing: minimal, yet laced with a delicate lyricism that never feels dull. Not once did I think (always with a critical eye) that there was a sentence too many, or a paragraph too few.
Are there faults? As with any story, of course. On a superficial level, there were times (very few, I must admit) when the dialogue felt slightly too modern for the tone of the story (there is the occasional written-out "um" and "uh"). The riddles, while unique and well-written, felt a little interchangeable in their answers (though not the manner in which Catrin learns them). On a deeper level, the lessons the story delivers (for of course, it has a lesson, as should all fairy tales) seem rooted in the consequences of hasty and youthful decisions, and the ending, whilst bittersweet and haunting and wonderful, comes across as the result of the inevitability of fate: it wouldn't have mattered if Catrin had gone on her quests or not, for she would have ended up the same either way (I hope this doesn't give too much away!).
The book itself is lovingly crafted, and though the cover seemed gaudy at first, it of course fits the story perfectly. It is by far the most professional self-published book I have ever read, which goes only to show just how much love and time Nancy has put into it. Try as I might, I couldn't find a single typo or spelling mistake. My only nitpicks are that the paragraph indents are a touch too deep, and I wish the paper was cream rather than white—my own personal preference.
Last thoughts: is it a children's story? Not quite—no more than any fairy tale is. It's certainly suitable for all ages, and I can't recommend it enough. This may well be the first ever review of this story; I know it won't be the last. I wish Nancy all the best, and I hope this is the beginning of a wonderful career for her!
The publication of the “Original Folk and Fairy Tales” from the Brothers Grimm last year taught us what real fairy tales used to be. No Disney coaches or sanitizing pats on the head for naughty children. Off to the forest full of wild beasts, and take your running shoes.
The princess in Ms. Chase’s book has enough spunk for ten princesses and needs it. Undoing a bad decision requires a week of solving riddles from shape-shifting magpies. Each riddle demands a complicated adventure and series of tasks to find the answer (a hundred What?)
The writing is excellent and well edited, with the addition of delightful illustrations by Katrina Sesum.
I didn’t see any leftover marriage-minded princes still hanging around on the last page, but you can speculate on what plans the princess may have in mind for her life after all that work. Fairy tales have a way of going in whatever direction they fancy at the moment, so anything is possible.
I highly recommend this book. Enjoy, and give it to someone for Christmas or birthday. I look forward to more from this author.