This debut fantasy sees a girl surrounded by strange happenings grow up and confront a vile king.
In the village of Alonia, Agatha the midwife traditionally delivers children in her home. And yet Ilvy’s pregnancy has been an odd one, in which the baby sometimes seems to telepathically communicate with the woman, making requests. Instead of giving birth with Agatha’s help, Ilvy is compelled to do so beneath the willow trees. The baby, Herlot, is a healthy girl. But her odd entrance into the world forever marks her an outsider. At the age of 5, she plays hide-and-seek with uncanny precision, as if a ghost tells her exactly where her playmates are. In the woods one day, she meets Devotio, a unicorn, a magical beast she adores. He promises to visit her “every twelve moons” in secret if she promises to never tell anyone he exists. Eventually her older brother, Ambro, finds out and shares in her delight. Yet as the siblings grow up, Ambro tells Herlot that they invented Devotio. Herlot lives with this disenchantment until she is 18. She resolves to become a steward for King Cloudian, who has made his kingdom of Eraska unique by banning gold. Greedy King Felix of Isolda, meanwhile, hopes to rule all. Rosestone’s coming-of-age saga relies on sweeping character arcs and only light touches of magic, not unlike T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958). The story is sometimes inspired by real-life historical events, specifically the death of Native Americans from smallpox, which helps push Herlot into the heroic spotlight. An outbreak of “crowpox” affects villagers in Alonia and creates ugly chaos but also returns Devotio to Herlot’s life and rekindles her faith in the unseen. The unicorn tells her: “No matter what happens, the stars can see you....You’re never alone.” The need for perseverance is equally intense for Movo, Cloudian’s own son whom Felix imprisoned. In this series opener, the author superbly conveys the power of childhood magic in the narrative’s first half as well as the adolescent questioning that may or may not spark a renewal of creative powers in the second. A daring finale should rouse fans for the sequel.
Beneath the medieval drama, this fantasy skillfully addresses life’s grandest dilemmas.