Review of Child of the Prophecy, by Juliet Marillier

Child of the Prophecy

by Juliet Marillier

TOR Fantasy, 2002. 596 pages.
Starred Review

Child of the Prophecy is the third book in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters Trilogy. She has managed to make each book completely different from the others, each romance totally distinct, and yet all of them equally brilliant.

I expected this third book to be all about the obvious child of the prophecy, Johnny, who was born in the second book and foretold in the first book. Instead, the book is about Fianne, who is the granddaughter of the evil sorceress Oonagh, who enchanted the brothers into swans in the first book. Lady Oonagh still lives, and now she is sending her granddaughter to Sevenwaters to finally get vengeance and destroy the people of Sevenwaters.

However, Fianne is a daughter of Sevenwaters herself. She finds herself loving the family that she meets for the first time. But if she reveals anyone she loves to her grandmother, her grandmother will use that love against her by attacking them.

It was strange to read this book and find yourself rooting for Fianne — even knowing that she was a tool in the hands of the sorceress.

Juliet Marillier brings the book and the trilogy to a wonderful and satisfying conclusion, weaving another magnificent tale in this third book.

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Gained in Translation

Last Thursday, I posted about how happy I was to receive a copy of Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge direct from the author, James Kennedy. The first thing both he and I noticed about the translation was that it appeared much longer than the original book, The Order of Odd-Fish.

Now, I suspect this is simply because German takes more letters to say the same thing. James expressed the suspicion that perhaps they had gotten carried away and added episodes when translating (which you must admit would be quite interesting).

It occurred to me that I did have an easy method at hand to test my hypothesis. You see, when we moved to Germany, my very first purchase was a copy of one of my very favorite books, Momo, by Michael Ende, in its original language, German.

That did start a trend. Here are some of the books in my German collection (though none of these have “Sonderling” in the title!):

I especially liked getting books originally written in German, which is why you’ll find Drachenreiter (Dragonrider) and Tintenblut (Inkblood, translated Inkheart), by Cornelia Funke, and Die unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story), by Michael Ende, as well as the original version of my childhood beloved book Heidi. Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) was given to me by my German landlady as a favorite book of hers (with cassette to listen to it), and I purchased Püh der Bär and Stolz und Vorurteil (Winnie-the-Pooh and Pride and Prejudice) because it’s so much fun to have such great classics in another language. Besides, I have the originals just about memorized, so I can easily understand the German.

Then there’s ourHarry Potter collection:

We own the American edition, British edition, and German edition of all of the first six books. (And I definitely need to make a trip back to Europe to purchase the seventh in the UK and in Germany.)

As for the first book:

My husband did a lot of traveling with the Air Force Band, and soon buying a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the local language became a souvenir to get excited about. We have Book One in American, British, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Bulgarian, Czech, Chinese, and French. Okay, I’ve only actually read the editions in American, British, German, and French. But the others are fun to look at!

So, this seems like a pretty good sample to me. Do Germans need more pages to tell a story?

We already found the page counts for James Kennedy’s book:
The Order of Odd-Fish: 403 pages.
Der Orden der Seltsamer Sonderlinge: 511 pages.

Just for fun, let’s check all the editions of Harry Potter Book One first:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (original): 223 pages.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 309 pages. (Looks like the Americans dragged this one out.)
Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen: 335 pages.
Hebrew version: 321 pages.
Japanese version: 191 pages.
Bulgarian version: 264 pages.
Harry Potter a Kámen mudrc? (Czech version): 285 pages.
Chinese version: 462 pages.
Harry Potter à L’École des Sorciers (French version): 232 pages.

Interesting. They are totally different lengths, and German is the second longest, beaten only by Chinese. (I’m surprised that Chinese and Japanese are so different, but it looks like Chinese doesn’t use as much of each page. Maybe they start a new line for a new paragraph?)

How about the rest of the Harry Potters?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (original): 251 pages.
American version: 341 pages.
Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens: 352 pages.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (original): 317 pages.
American version: 435 pages.
Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban: 448 pages.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (original): 636 pages.
American version: 734 pages.
Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch: 767 pages.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (original): 766 pages.
American version: 870 pages.
Harry Potter und der Orden des Phönix: 1021 pages.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (original): 607 pages.
American version: 652 pages.
Harry Potter und der Halbblutprinz: 656 pages.

Those books are certainly consistent! Interesting how much longer the American books are than the British ones. It definitely looks like less words on a page. But the Germans still manage to be longer, every time.

Let’s check some more books translated from English to German:

Winnie-the-Pooh: 148 pages.
Püh der Bär: 157 pages.

Pride and Prejudice (my fancy edition): 367 pages.
Paperback at the library: Also 367 pages.
Stolz und Vorurteil: 452 pages.

The Little Prince (Okay, this one was originally in French): 97 pages.
Der Kleine Prinz: 125 pages.

Maybe it’s different if the book starts out in German, so let’s check those:

Momo (original): 285 pages.
Momo (fancy American hardback, with illustrations): 227 pages.

Die unendliche Geschichte: 428 pages.
The Neverending Story: 384 pages.

Heidi (original): 333 pages (with illustrations).
Heidi (American paperback): 198 pages.

Tintenblut: 707 pages.
Inkheart: 576 pages.

Drachenreiter: 448 pages.
Dragon Rider: 536 pages.

What’s this? My last example is the only one where the English version turns out longer. Looking inside, it does seem to pretty clearly have less words on a page.

Now, those math nuts among us could have further fun determining the percentage each German book is longer than the English one, but it’s getting late. Despite the one very last exception, it looks like it is perfectly normal for German translations to contain more pages than English ones. So I will still look sharp for cleverly concealed additions, but I think this is simply a case of needing more space. I would be very interested to find out if the German books also take longer to read. I suspect that would be much closer, but that one, I’m not going to sample.

Now, having sized up the task, in my next installment, I will tackle Kapitel Eins.

Review of The Mislaid Magician, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Mislaid Magician
Ten Years After

Being the Private Correspondence Between Two Prominent Families Regarding a Scandal Touching the Highest Levels of Government and the Security of the Realm

by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Harcourt, 2006. 328 pages.
Starred Review

I loved these authors’ earlier books, Sorcery and Cecilia and The Grand Tour, so much, it was a no-brainer to buy this third book about cousins Kate and Cecy in a magical regency England just as soon as it came out. However, I was still at the stage where I only got library books read, because library books have a due date. So the book sat in one of my many to-be-read piles and peeked out at me tantalizingly.

Well, after I loaded up on Advance Review Copies at ALA Annual Conference this summer, I decided to make myself a rule, or I’d never get any of those books read. Now I alternate. After every library book, I read a book I own. It’s working great, and this was one of the first books I own that I selected. I was so happy to finally get around to reading it!

The books are set in an alternate England, where people mix their attention to manners with magic. The authors have written the books by writing letters between the characters, Kate and Cecy, who are cousins. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the earlier books, but that wasn’t a problem with understanding what was going on. And, after all, the book is set ten years into the young ladies’ marriages, so it’s probably appropriate to read it later.

At the start of the book, Cecy and her husband James are asked by the Duke of Wellington to investigate the disappearance of a distinguished magician who was investigating a problem with the ley lines — lines of magic that run throughout England. They leave their children with Kate and Thomas, and the precocious children of both couples figure into the correspondence.

What follows is a mystery and an absorbing adventure. This is clever, light reading. There are some very fun and surprising bits of magic thrown into the mix. I don’t need to say a lot more. These books take regency England mixed in with magic. If that sounds delightful to you, you should definitely read them. This one isn’t really a romance like the first, but it is a fun mystery and reminds me more of Amelia Peabody books from when Ramses was young.

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Review of Erika’s Story, by Ruth Vander Zee

Erika’s Story

by Ruth Vander Zee
illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Creative Editions, Mankato, MN, 2003. 24 pages.

I actually found this book when I was weeding library books that hadn’t been checked out in two years. This one was in good condition, and when I started reading it, I was transfixed. It was too good to weed from the collection, and too powerful not to check out and review.

I should add that nonfiction picture books like this one easily get lost on the shelves. It’s not suitable for a school report, and kids usually don’t go looking in the nonfiction section for powerful stories. So they don’t get read as often as they deserve to be.

The story in this book is simple, and it’s powerfully told. The author met a Jewish lady in Rothenburg, Germany, and relates her story. The lady, Erika, speculates about how it must have been for her parents, herded onto a cattle car headed for the concentration camps. But she doesn’t know anything about them for sure.

“As the train slowed through a village, my mother must have looked up through the opening near the top of the cattle car. With my father, she must have tried spreading the barbed wire that covered the hole. My mother must have lifted me over her head and toward the dim daylight. What happened next is the only thing I know for sure.

“My mother threw me from the train.”

Erika was taken in by a woman who risked her life by caring for Erika and giving her a name and an approximate birthdate. She grew up and married and had children of her own.

The story is told simply and starkly. The pictures are beautiful and realistic. It’s interesting that the artist doesn’t show anybody’s faces except the baby, as if to emphasize all that Erika doesn’t know about her family. The pink baby blanket is also the brightest spot of color in the pictures from the past.

The story is also gently told, with an emphasis on Erika’s survival. You could read this to a child and then talk about it as much or as little as you like, but it’s a relatively gentle introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.

And it’s definitely powerful for an adult reader, too. What would it take for a mother to throw her baby off a train? The book doesn’t ask any questions like that, which leaves the readers asking themselves.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

A Sonderbook Indeed!

Those who read my blog should know by now that Sonder is a German prefix meaning “special.” I put that statement at the bottom of every page.

You may also realize that I have a thing about my name. I get a thrill any time I see it in print, spelled correctly. All my years in school, teachers who had just met me would always, or it seemed always, read my name as “Sandy.” I had one Sunday School teacher who, for a few years, called me Sandra. I did not like him.

The story went that my parents named me “Sondy” instead of “Sandy” because they wanted to have a boy named “Randy,” and that would be too much alike. (And I do indeed have a little brother named Randy.) My mother’s mother had a piano student named “Sondra,” and they decided they liked the name and would use that. Some time or other, my Mom told me they expected me to go by Sondra, but they called me “Sondy,” and so that’s what I went by when I got to school age. If Sandra’s can go by Sandy, it seems perfectly logical for Sondra to go by Sondy, right?

But somehow, people can’t seem to read the name “Sondy.” They always seem to think they’re not seeing it right, or it’s spelled wrong or something. I also found that when I went by a display of Name souvenirs — like California license plates with people’s names, or necklaces with people’s names, or key chains, or whatever you might hope to find — well, there was never a Sondra or a Sondy in the crowd. I know. I always looked.

So, I got to Germany. I very very quickly spotted that Sonder is a prefix meaning “special.” There was a town relatively near us called Sonderhausen (“special houses”). I looked on a map for more Sonder towns, and about popped my eyes out when I discovered an actual village that shared my name. I dragged my family three hours to get a picture with the sign. (We went to a castle while we were at it, of course.)

Stores would offer a Sonderangebot (“special offer”). Of course, childishly, my very favorite German word quickly became Sonderfahrt (“special trip”).

I looked in my German dictionary for more Sonder words, knowing that in German, the dictionary will by no means list them all. I found some fun ones: Sonderaustellung, “special exhibit”; Sonderfall, “special case”; sonderlich, “remarkable”; Sondernummer, “special edition”; Sonderpreis, “special price”; Sonderstellung, “exceptional position”; Sonderurlaub, “emergency leave”; and Sonderzug, “special train.”

As I was so pleased to read all the ways Sonder means special, I was a bit embarrassed when I read the definition of Sonderling: “queer (or eccentric) fellow, crank.” But all my years in Germany, I never heard anyone use that word or saw it written, so I decided I could safely focus on the “special” meaning.

With all that, you can see why the name of my website was easy to choose. In fact, I talked about making a website called “Sonderbooks” for quite some time before I actually did it.

Okay, many years after starting my website, I attended the 2010 ALA Conference in Washington, DC. At the YA Coffee Klatch, I met James Kennedy.

When James described his book, The Order of Odd-Fish, the sense of humor struck me as quirky and clever and delightful. I was sure my sons would love it, since it reminded me of Douglas Adams, so I bought a copy for my younger son’s 16th birthday.

Well, a year later, I was on my way to ALA Annual Conference again. My son still hadn’t read it, and I still hadn’t read it, but James Kennedy’s name was in the program, and I thought how I’d hate to meet him again without having read his book. So I brought it along and began it on the flight there, and finished it on the flight back.

As luck would have it, I did meet James again, this time at the Newbery Banquet. And I was able to tell him that I was reading his book!

I also had the fun of tweeting my reactions as I finished the book while traveling. (Completely fun book!)

Okay, so a few months ago, James announced on his website that The Order of Odd-Fish was being translated into German.

Dear Reader, imagine my delight when I learned the title: Der Orden der Seltsamer Sonderlinge! Yes, that’s right! Remember the “queer or eccentric fellow” the “crank”? Seltsamer basically means “strange” and Sonderlinge is simply the plural form of that delightful word Sonderling. (By the way, I was very happy to learn that more modern dictionaries include the word “nerd” in the definition.)

Well, I expressed my delight via Twitter to James, and he very kindly promised me a German copy.

And it arrived last night! Actually, I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t check my mail the day before yesterday, so it may have come then. When I found it, I suddenly felt much better!

I was especially delighted that my son, who is in his fourth year of studying German, and has actually begun The Order of Odd-Fish now, snagged the German edition before I could look at it very hard. We looked up important things. Like, how did they translate “the Belgian Prankster”? Answer: der Belgische Scherzkeks. Looking up the parts of that word in my German dictionary, prankster is basically “joke-cookie.” Don’t you love those German compound words?

We both were compelled to read the jacket copy on the back aloud, and were both delighted with the parts we understood. For example, I quickly grasped “Jo trifft auf eine sprechende Riesenkakerlake,” which means “Jo met a giant talking cockroach.”

The first thing you notice about the German edition is that it looks much bigger than the English edition. Here’s another view that shows this even more clearly:

The English edition is 403 pages, but the German edition is 511. James put a note in the book suggesting that perhaps they added scenes when translating. That would be fun to discover, but I think a simple listing of random sentences will show a simple truth: German sentences take more space to write than English ones.

Let’s look at the first sentence:
“The desert was empty, as though a great drain had sucked the world underground.”

Auf Deutsch:
“Die Wüste war leer, als hätte ein gro?er Abfluss die Welt weggesaugt.”

Okay, that one does not prove my point. Let’s try another:

“A giant cockroach had walked into the room, three feet tall, wearing a purple velvet suit with a silk shirt, cravat, and bowler hat.”

Auf Deutsch:
“Eine gigantische Kakerlake hatte den Raum betreten. Sie war mindestens einen Meter fünfzig gro?, trug einen violetten Samtanzug, darunter ein Seidenhemd, eine Krawatte und einem Bowler auf dem Kopf.”

That one’s more what I expected. Though why do you suppose they had to mention he had the Bowler on his head (auf dem Kopf)? Maybe a Bowler isn’t always a hat?

Anyway, surely you can see how much fun this is going to be.

Now, I’m horrified as I write this to realize I never did review The Order of Odd-Fish. I’m pretty sure it got out of my big To-Review pile this summer when my son did decide to finally read it. So I’m going to remedy that soon. However, though I can read German, I don’t read it very fast, so it would take who-knows-how-long for me to read the whole book and then report back.

So. I foresee a continuing feature. I mean surely the first time I see Sonderling actually used in print, I simply HAVE to feature it on Sonderbooks? I think after each chapter, I hope about once a week, I will post about my journey through this translation. I’ll explore how they express different unusual concepts and anything else that strikes my fancy. Since the book is definitely quirky, I hope I can work in some quirky observations.

I hope that my readers will enjoy joining me on my Sonderfahrt through Der Orden der Seltsamer Sonderlinge!

Review of Are You Awake? by Sophie Blackall

Are You Awake?

by Sophie Blackall

Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt), New York, 2011. 40 pages.

I can’t decide if I would want this book if I actually still had a toddler. Would it give him ideas? Though then, when I think about it, no toddler ever needed to be given the idea of waking up his mother, so this book would simply provide an opportunity to talk about it, and maybe get across why Mommy doesn’t really want to be woken up when it’s still dark.

Everyone who’s ever had a toddler will give a groan of recognition when they see this book. However, we’ll also remember the feel of those snuggly warm toddler bodies, so the can’t help but have a surge of fondness.

The pictures make this book wonderful. Sophie Blackall has toddlerhood down! First we see the word “Mom?” in the dark, then “Mom?” with bright eyes, then we see Edward with one finger pulling his Mom’s eye open.

Then come all the WHY questions:

“Why aren’t you awake?”
“Why are you asleep?”
“Why is it still nighttime?”
“Why hasn’t the sun come up yet?”
“Why are the stars still out?”

The pages also give Mom’s responses in a familiar littany of Edward tumbling around on the bed, talking to Mom, while Mom tries to go back to sleep.

I like the realistic way Mom keeps saying, on and on, that it’s still nighttime, and comes up with new responses when Edward asks why.

Edward also asks if Daddy is awake. Mom hopes so, because he’s flying a plane.

As the book goes on, the room very slowly gets lighter. Edward tumbles around the bed and then cuddles up close to Mom. They talk about all sorts of things and, wouldn’t you know it, as the sun comes up, Mom wakes up — and Edward falls asleep.

The final picture shows Dad (home from flying the plane) trying to sleep with a mask over his eyes, and Edward asking if he’s awake. Is it wrong that I’m happy that Dad gets the treatment, too?

Like I said, I don’t know if this book would actually be effective to share with a toddler. However, it’s completely charming and delightful and evocative if you have only the memory of a toddler doing that, and no current threat. I think Grandmas and Grandpas and aunts and uncles might especially find this a good gift to share with a child! I certainly got a cozy smile from it.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Here’s Looking at Euclid, by Alex Bellos

Here’s Looking at Euclid

A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math

by Alex Bellos

Free Press, New York, 2010. 319 pages.

I’ve already confessed to being a certified Math Nut. So no one will be surprised that I could not resist a book with this title and snapped it up and enjoyed it thoroughly.

This author takes the human approach. He does talk about some fascinating mathematical concepts, but mostly it’s through meeting and talking with people who are even bigger Math Nuts than me. (I say that with reverence, by the way.) I like his chapter descriptions in the Table of Contents, which give you an idea of where he’s going. For example, here’s the first chapter, Chapter Zero:

“In which the author tries to find out where numbers come from, since they haven’t been around that long. He meets a man who has lived in the jungle and a chimpanzee who has always lived in the city.”

Another chapter, “The Life of Pi,” is described:

“In which the author is in Germany to witness the world’s fastest mental multiplication. It is a roundabout way to begin telling the story of circles, a transcendental tale that leads him to a New York sofa.”

So this is one of those books that covers lots of fascinating mathematical ideas, but also about the people who deal with them. And that’s probably enough for my readers to know if they’re interested or not.

I’ll conclude with the end of the author’s Preface:

“When writing this book, my motivation was at all times to communicate the excitement and wonder of mathematical discovery. I also wanted to show that mathematicians can be funny. They are the kings of logic, which gives them an extremely discriminating sense of the illogical. Math suffers from a reputation that it is dry and difficult. Often it is. Yet math can also be inspiring, accessible and, above all, brilliantly creative. Abstract mathematical thought is one of the great achievements of the human race, and arguably the foundation of all human progress.

“The world of mathematics is a remarkable place. I would recommend a visit.”

Let me add that this author makes a wonderful tour guide for your visit.

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Review of Across the Great Barrier, by Patricia C. Wrede

Across the Great Barrier

by Patricia C. Wrede

Scholastic Press, New York, 2011. 339 pages.
Starred Review

I like Patricia C. Wrede’s writing so much, I pre-ordered a copy of this book, and was delighted when it showed up on my doorstep. This book is the second book in the Frontier Magic series, continuing in the fascinating world the author created in Thirteenth Child.

These books are set in an alternate reality Old West, where the world has magic. The West of “Columbia” was never settled by humans, because ferocious magical creatures live there, including saber cats and dragons and mammoths and other dangerous creatures.

I like the alternate reality Patricia C. Wrede has built, because she has lots of things that are different. So many alternate reality books assume just a few differences, and that history would go the same as it did. But why would that happen? I like the way she has lots of little differences, like different names for things. Children are called childings. Europe is Avrupa. America is Columbia. Of course, there are also huge differences, like the existence of magical creatures.

Another thing I like about this series is that it’s one series that has a family like the one I came from — thirteen kids! There aren’t very many out there. Now, to be honest, by this time Eff’s brothers and sisters are all grown (which is realistic), so it doesn’t feel like a big family story, but I still have a soft spot for a book with a family like mine, even if the main character is a lot more analogous to my youngest sister, and has an experience nothing like those of us at the top of the birth order.

This book is not very dramatic, but it’s simply a good story. I hope the series continues a long time. As in Thirteenth Child, the narrator does a lot of telling about events, rather than dramatizing scenes, so a lot of time passes. But it’s all very interesting, since it’s about this fascinating world. Eff is figuring out how her own magic works, while also solving some mysteries across the Great Barrier.

The Great Barrier is a magical barrier set up in the Mississippi River that protects the country from the fearsome magical creatures that live out West. However, there are settlements that have been allowed beyond the Great Barrier, and in this book, Eff gets to go with a research party to catalog the plant and animal life. They find some startlingly realistic statue fragments, and there is no mark of any tool. Is something turning creatures into stone?

This book still gives the feeling that there’s lots more to be told. Eff’s twin, Lan, and their friend William go off to college in the East and don’t show up a lot in this book. Eff’s still finding her niche and ways to use her talents and interest in magical animals. By the end of the book, she feels like a friend, and I very much want to hear more about her.

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Review of Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge

Fly By Night

by Frances Hardinge
performed by Jill Turner

Recorded Books, 2006. 14 hours, 12 compact discs.
Starred Review

I’d been meaning to read Fly By Night for quite some time, and listening to the recorded book ended up being a delightful way to do it. I always enjoy British narrators, and Jill Turner’s exquisite voice was the perfect way to highlight the extraordinary language contained in this book.

Frances Hardinge has an imagination not quite like anyone else’s. In the world she’s created for Fly By Night there are many different “Beloved” the people worship, and your name is given depending on the time when you are born, and the Beloved who is honored on that day. In the Prelude to this book, Mosca Mye has just been born after dusk, at the time sacred to Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns.

To give you just a taste of Frances Hardinge’s imagination, these are a few of the other Beloved:

Goodlady Cramflick, She Who Keeps the Vegetables of the Garden Crisp;
Goodlady Prill, Protector of Pigs;
Goodman Grayglory, He Who Guides the Sword in Battle;
Goodlady Agragap, She Who Frightens the Harelip Fairy from the Childbed;
and Goodman Blackwhistle of the Favorable Wind.

Her language is completely delightful to listen to. This book is full of similes that are both unique and wonderfully apt. A few examples of those:

As the story opens, she talks about the sleeping villagers:

“On this particular night their dreams were a little ruffled by the unusual excitement of the day, but already the water that seeped into every soul was smoothing their minds back into placidity, like a duck’s bill glossing its plumage.”

Describing the village:
“There was no escaping the sound of water. It had many voices. The clearest sounded like someone shaking glass beads in a sieve. The waterfall spray beat the leaves with a noise like paper children applauding. From the ravines rose a sound like the chuckle of granite-throated goblins.”

As it opens, Mosca wants to get out of the village where she lives with her uncle. She decides to free Eponymous Clent, who won over the town, but was then exposed as a fraud. She finds him hanging upside-down on the Chiding Stone, and tells him she’ll let him out if he gives her a job.

“‘I want to travel,’ Mosca declared. ‘The sooner the better,’ she added, with an apprehensive look over her shoulder.

“‘Do you even have the first idea of what my profession entails?’

“‘Yes,’ said Mosca. ‘You tell lies for money.’

“‘Ah. Aha. My child, you have a flawed grasp of the nature of myth-making. I am a poet and storyteller, a creator of ballads and sagas. Pray do not confuse the exercise of the imagination with mere mendacity. I am a master of the mysteries of words, their meanings and music and mellifluous magic.'”

And so the tale begins. Mosca goes off with Eponymous Clent and her pet goose Saracen, who attacks (and defeats) anyone but Mosca. They head for the city of Mandelion, and on the way, in one of my favorite scenes, they come across a coach being attacked by a bedraggled band of highwaymen. Clent recognizes the duchess inside the carriage and asks her for a job if he can keep the highwayman from robbing her.

Clent tells the highwayman, named Blythe, that a young lady inside is very ill and needs her money to get to a doctor. Blythe plans to steal from her anyway, but then asks what he stands to lose.

“After a moment’s dramatic pause, Clent let his arms drop.

“‘I am a writer of ballads — I value gestures. I understand them. I know what I can do with them. Let us suppose, for example, that you allowed this young woman to stay in her carriage, handed her back her money, and wished her and her people godspeed back to Mandelion so that she could find a physician who might save her life — ah, what I could do with that!’

“Blythe’s eyes asked silently what Clent could do with that.

“‘I could write a ballad that would make proverbial the chivalry of Clamoring Captain Blythe. When you rode the cold cobbles of a midnight street, you would hear it sung in the taverns you passed, to give you more warmth than that thin coat of yours. When you were hunted across the moors by the constables, hundreds would lie sleepless, hoping that brave Captain Blythe still ran free.

“‘And when at night you lay on your bed of earth under your dripping roof of bracken, with no company but the wind and your horse champing moss near your head, you would know that in a glittering banquet hall somewhere, some young lady of birth would be thinking of you.

“‘That is what you stand to lose.'”

The wild adventure that follows is not a simple case of good versus evil, because it’s hard to tell who is good and who is bad, though we know all along that we’re rooting for Mosca. Yes, we see Captain Blythe again, and yes, the ballad has consequences. In fact, all kinds of things from early in the book are woven together later in the book. The plot is imaginative, intricate, and most enjoyable.

I didn’t find this book particularly heart-warming. But I did find it delightful intellectual fun. The language is rich and melodious, the world-building is imaginative and funny, and the plotting is clever and well-woven.

In the words of Mosca’s father, Quillam Mye:

“There is only one thing that is more dangerous than Truth. Those who would try to silence Truth’s voice are more destructive by far.”

I like the Disclaimer at the end:

“This is not a historical novel. It is a yarn. Although the Realm is based roughly on England at the start of the eighteenth century, I have taken appalling liberties with historical authenticity and, when I felt like it, the laws of physics.”

This is a good yarn that kids of all ages will enjoy. The audiobook would make a fantastic family listen-along for a wide span of ages.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.