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.)


Cloudbuster said...

This sounds delightful! Thanks for the excellent review.

Barrie said...

Oh, this does sound good! I wonder if some of the loose ends were tied up for the finished version? I love quest books. Thanks for reviewing!

Sarah Laurence said...

I love the metaphor: the young girl truly finding her voice. It's wonderful that books with strong female MC's and strong moms are ruling MG fiction. I especially like that the heroine needs more than magic, but regular human qualities. Excellent review!

These days when I finish a good book and want to know if there will be a sequel I just tweet to the author. This is how I know that Rachel Hartman is writing a companion book to the Seraphina duo and that Stephanie Perkins is now writing YA horror instead of YA romance.

PS I'm feeling this weather too. When will it be spring? It's like Narnia, always winter and never Christmas.

Stacy said...

Sounds a bit like a fairy tale. Which is a very good thing.

Ellen Booraem said...

Good point, Barrie--although they're pretty big loose ends to tie up in copy edits.

Sarah--I'm thrilled that there's going to be another Seraphina novel!!! I loved those books with a deep purple passion.

Stacy--it does read like a fairy tale, which is lovely.

Ellen Booraem said...

Thanks for stopping by, Rob! (aka Cloudbuster).

Linda McLaughlin said...

This books sounds fabulous! Adding it to Amazon wishlist.