Wednesday, April 6, 2016

April Book Review Club: Grayling's Song

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@Barrie Summy

Well, it's a good thing there are books, because winter has returned to Maine with freezing temperatures and breathtaking wind. Far from dashing outside and dancing in the sunshine, we're pulling up our socks and huddling by the woodstove, sick of the sight of one another. Time to grab a blanket and turn on the reading light.

I was greatly cheered by this book, and I hope you will be too. Don't forget to click on the icon above for more reviews!

Advance Reading Copy
By Karen Cushman
Clarion Books, June 7, 2016

I do love it when a girl learns to sing her own song. Especially when she’s got that familiar inner voice telling her she can’t do it.

Such is the charm of GRAYLING’S SONG, Karen Cushman’s latest, due out in June. This is Cushman’s first fantasy, although the medieval/renaissance setting will be delightfully familiar to fans of her historical novels (Catherine, Called Birdy; The Midwife’s Apprentice; Alchemy & Meggy Swann, to name a few).

As in many middle-grade fantasies, magic provides the Big Challenge our heroine must overcome, but her success depends less on her mystical powers than on her ability to conquer her inner demons. Magic is all very well, we learn, but courage, wit, insight, and kindness are a person's most powerful weapons.

Grayling is the daughter of a cunning woman, the aptly named Hannah Strong, who serves her neighborhood as healer and counselor. When we meet the two it’s clear that the daughter reveres her talented, fierce-minded mother to the point of feeling utterly inadequate herself. Almost immediately, however, Hannah Strong needs help—some evil force of “smoke and shadow” burns down their cottage and roots Hannah to the ground for a slow transformation into a tree. 

Worst of all, the force has spirited away Hannah’s grimoire, the recipe-book for her craft.

It’s up to Grayling to get help, ideally by rescuing the grimoire. Setting off reluctantly, she discovers that most other magical folk also have lost their grimoires and been turned into trees. But she finds that if she sings her mother’s grimoire will answer her, drawing her to it.

Following the grimoire’s song across the countryside, Grayling collects a motley band of helpers: a talking, shape-shifting mouse, a sorceress who ensnares the unwary with her beauty, an elderly magician with a mule, an even more elderly “weather witch” and her sullen apprentice.

Everybody knows more than Grayling does. And yet she finds to her astonishment that she’s always the leader. As the quest goes on, she finds in herself an unsuspected level of intelligence, bravery, and, yes, even what she might call “magic.”

You’ll be purring as you read. At least, I was.

I ransacked the internet to see if there’s going to be sequel to GRAYLING’S SONG, but there’s no hint of that yet. I’m concerned because there seem to me to be loose ends in this book. The first chapter tells us that Grayling’s country is plagued by battling warlords, vastly unequal distribution of wealth (sound familiar?), and drifts of homeless people (“edge dwellers”). We meet a warlord and some edge dwellers, but they don’t contribute much to the plot. I want to know more about them, and I want comeuppance for the person who caused the “smoke and shadow” situation, which I don’t feel I got.

Grayling, moreover, seems ripe for further adventures at the end of the book.

Surely, Ms. Cushman, there will be more?

(Dear FCC: I read an Advance Reading Copy of GRAYLING’S SONG, which I got as a free ebook through NetGalley. I signed up for it because I knew I’d love it, which does seem like cheating. But I’m sure you have bigger fish to fry.)