It took me a long time to get over my expectations for this story. You see, I am a firm Victoria Hanley fan. I discovered Seer and the Sword when I was a teenager, caught by Trina Schart Hyman's stunning cover. I loved Hanley's rich and romantic world. I'm not talking about love-romantic, but romantic in the sense of visionary, idealistic, and to quote the dictionary, "marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized." I love the way she can blend relationships and a little love-romance into her stories without it dominating the whole plot, as so many YA novels seem to do. (No, I'm not talking about Twilight. I'm talking about how the majority of YA fiction is focused on romantic relationships. It irritated me when I was a teenager and it irritates me now). Anyways.
I was soooo excited when I heard she had a new story coming out! One for tweens! But it's taking me some time to sort out how I feel about it. First, the story seemed completely different than anything she'd written or what I'd expected. It's non-stop action with minimal character development. A young fairy, Zaria, is shocked to discover there is something very unique about her. Suddenly, everything completely changes and she's battling spells she doesn't understand, enemies she can't find, and even her own friends. Her unique powers help her free the world of TirFeyne from an evil villain and she learns a startling secret at the very end. I know that's not a very good plot summary, but I don't want to spoil it.
At first, I didn't like it. It's divided into very short chapters, each one prefaced by a lengthy excerpt from a history of TirFeyne. Some of the excerpts are as long as the chapters! All the fairies have names derived from jewels and every time I thought I had figured out how their world worked, another part of it showed up. Their system of magic was based on complicated mathematical calculations (well, complicated to me!) and involved an odd and seemingly cliched trope of magical-education fantasies, those with more magic despise those without. The nasty human Zaria encounters is unbelievably horrible.
But then I thought about it a little more. And you know what? It works. It really, really does. The action grabs the reader, pulling you along until suddenly you realize "I know these characters!" Every new facet of the world is a like a marvelous surprise. The drama, the confusion, the exaggeration, it all perfectly fits the characters of the twelve-year-old fairies, suddenly encountering completely new circumstances and power they have no idea how to handle. Even the jewel names, which seem to have bugged quite a few readers, fit into Hanley's strangely beautiful world, a world both barren and vibrant. I want to know what happens next!
This book is not going to please fans of YA faerie novels. It's probably not going to work for those who want only the quasi-high fantasy adventure of Hanley's previous stories. But this book is perfect, absolutely perfect, for that in-between stage. Tweens who love romantic and thrilling fantasy but aren't ready for the more edgy YA titles will fall in love with Hanley's elaborately imagined and tensely plotted story.
Verdict: This is the absolutely flawless recommendation for the vast squadrons of little girls (and boys!) who are huge fans of Rainbow Magic but want to move on to something more challenging. Victoria Hanley has a massive and ready-made audience waiting for her newest creation; all we need to do is put it in their hands!
ISBN: 978-1606840115; Published August 2009 by Egmont; ARC received from the publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library (purchased again after it was stolen); Added to my personal wishlist