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The author of Ella Enchanted and several other fairy tales re-told (prominently, the “Princess Tales”) comes through again with this tale of two devoted sisters living in the magical land of Bamarre.
I don’t know exactly where Bamarre is located, but it (along with its neighboring countries) floats on top of a deep ocean under a vast starry sky. It is a kingdom populated mainly by not-very valiant humans, though they treasure the legends of the great hero Drualt and the memory of a brave king named Willard. The humans don’t have the place to themselves, of course. There are also sorcerers, elves, dwarves, and fairies on the one hand, ogres, dragons, specters, and bloodthirsty gryphons on the other.
But worst of all, the land is haunted by a disease known as the Gray Death.
King Lionel is a coward and a widower. He has two daughters. Meryl is the brave one who wants to have adventures, slay monsters, and find a cure for the Gray Death. Addie, on the other hand, is shy, scared of spiders and practically everything else, and comforted by the protecting shadow of her sister. Yet it is Meryl who is struck down by the Gray Death, and Addie who must go on perilous adventures to find a cure before her time runs out.
With the aid of a magic tablecloth, a pair of seven-league boots, a magic spyglass, a bundle of moily herbs, and her gift for embroidery, Addie sets out. Befriended by a sorcerer and an invisible presence, menaced by every kind of monster, she overcomes her own fears for the love of Meryl. She seeks the cure for the Gray Death through field and forest, desert and mountain, racing against time. Meanwhile the world seems bursting with specters seeking to lead her astray, gryphons wanting to drink her blood, rock-throwing ogres, and the most interesting dragon character I have ever met (Vollys would make an excellent subject for a psychological case study).
She does not conquer her fears, but she learns to deal with them. She also experiences love, grief, hope, despair, and… well, a lot of things that stand to make quite a hero out of her. But the end of her adventure is something else again– unexpected, and raising the whole story to a completely new level that reminds one suddenly of Madeleine L’Engle or C.S. Lewis.
Being 99.44% “all boy” in my reading preferences (hawk, spit), I can think of no better way to recommend this book than by saying that I look forward to reading the rest of Levine’s “Princess Tales.”