On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming...
I was planning on covering Zoë Marriott's The Swan Kingdom today—it is, after all, based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans—but at the last second, I've decided to point you to my old review (well, more semi-coherent gushing than an actual review, realy) of Eva Ibbotson's A Company of Swans. Which is about ballerinas, not swans, but: my list, my rules.
Anyway, if you're a fan of mostly-chaste, mostly-gentle, smart, adorable, swoony historical romances with ultra-likable heroines and ultra-awful antagonists and you HAVEN'T read Ibbotson's romances... well, get to it.
On the Sixth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying...
I had a few options for this one—I could have easily gone with Dark Lord of Derkholm or The Goose Girl—but as I hadn't read Goose Chase in years, this series was a great excuse to revisit it. The geese in this book are much like the geese in Dark Lord: intelligent, independent, bossy, hissy, prone to biting, and just plain wonderful.
For the past six months, fourteen-year-old goose girl Alexandria Aurora Fortunato has been kept prisoner in a tower by her two suitors: King Claudio the Cruel of Gilboa and Prince Edmund of Dorloo. Since she combs gold dust from her hair every morning and produces diamonds on the rare occasions that she cries—not to mention being more beautiful than the dawn—they're both magnanimously willing to look past her humble parentage.
The problem is, she doesn't want to marry either of them. King Claudio, for obvious reasons—he didn't just earn his nickname, he revels in it—and Prince Edmund because he's a moron. She's put them off for as long as possible, though, and she's run out of ways to stall.
Clearly it's time to escape.
Oh, Goose Chase. Such a great book. Alexandria is hugely crabby, sometimes snotty and often imperious and bossy—in a good way, though she also handles every situation she's in with aplomb, and it's always clear that she's got a good heart—and her narration is, from the very first sentence, entertaining and funny and enjoyable in every way. Example?
I am a no-nonsense, practical sort of person and I don't expect that I shall care for adventures — certainly I don't think much of the one I'm in at the moment — but I suppose that from now on adventures will be coming my way whether I like it or not.
The story itself weaves in bits from Rapunzel and Cinderella and Diamonds and Toads and The Wild Swans and, of course, The Goose Girl. It's got moments of adventure and romance and everything that you'd expect, but it's also got some moments of pure farce—the time Alexandria spends with the Ogresses is especially fabulous—and it's smart and hilarious. If you're a fan of Howl's Moving Castle and the Dealing with Dragons series and you HAVEN'T read this one, you're in for a huge treat.
On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings...
There's only one gold ring in Storm Catchers, but it's important. Thirteen-year-old Ella is snatched from her family's house in the middle of the night, and, fearing for her life, her parents follow the kidnapper's instructions and leave the authorities out of it.
Wracked with guilt—he was supposed to be home with Ella and their three-year-old brother Sammy—fifteen-year-old Fin turns Ella's GOLD RING into a dowsing pendant, and together, he and Sammy attempt to find Ella before it's too late. BUT. There's much more going on than at first glance, and since Ella's kidnapping, Sammy's mysterious imaginary—or is she?—friend has been drawing him into ever-scarier, ever-more-dangerous situations, and there's this old tramp who's been hanging around...
Storm Catchers reminded me a little bit of Susan Cooper—it's set in Cornwall, is totally creepy, and it has that Old Fashioned '70s Adventure flavor—though it's heavier on action than any Cooper I've ever read. There's a little bit of Mary Downing Hahn in here, too: as in Wait Till Helen Comes, there's a ghost girl and a whole lot of crappy behavior on the part of the parents. Fin's father, especially, is absolutely insufferable—he's very open about blaming Fin for Ella's disappearance, even though SPOILER the whole situation has come about due to his own actions a decade ago END SPOILER—and neither parent ever thinks to turn to Fin and say, "IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU'RE A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY, CLEARLY NOT A FIGHTER, AND EVEN SMALL FOR YOUR AGE. IF YOU'D BEEN THERE, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN HURT OR KILLED, AND IT'S LIKELY THAT ELLA STILL WOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN. WE'RE GLAD THAT YOU'RE SAFE." Bowler taps right into that ADULTS ARE UNFAIR NO-NOTHINGS feeling, but some readers are bound to be annoyed that Fin never voices any sort of frustration with any of it. Then again, he's kind of busy trying to find his sister, to keep his younger brother safe, and to figure out what the heck his father is hiding. So maybe he just doesn't have the time for a good old gripe session.
It's a LOT to cram into two hundred pages—kidnapping, ghost, family secrets, big-time betrayal, blackmail, telepathy, magic, and tragic death—so some of it feels somewhat undeveloped, but overall, it's well-written, atmospheric, the action sequences are fast-paced and cinematic, and at points, it's super scary. Fun stuff, and bound to appeal to readers looking for that semi-wholesome (er... there's no romance or major profanity, anyway, though the storyline involves marital infidelity) old-fashioned adventure feel.