March 01, 2007


The Faerie Path. By Frewin Jones. Eos. $16.99.

Wildwood Dancing. By Juliet Marillier. Knopf. $16.99.

      Tales of beauty and complexity, told with a sure hand and partaking of wonder without being much like old-fashioned “fairy tales,” these novels are enchanting examples of stories that use formulaic elements but rise above them through clever plotting, interesting characterization and a fine sense of style.

      Both books are about passages from our world to another, and both feature heroines who move, not always easily, between the “real” world and the “other” world, facing uncertainty and danger in both. Yet for all their similarities, the novels’ effects are very different: these authors are doing different things, and doing them very well indeed.

      The Faerie Path is the first book of what will be a series, and is so exciting and well-wrought that readers will be delighted to find out that there will be a sequel. Anita Palmer is the reason. The book’s 16-year-old heroine is on the verge of falling in love for the first time when she is suddenly transported elsewhere, and finds that she is no less than the seventh daughter of Oberon and Titania – to be specific, a fairy princess named Tania. The realm of Faerie is in dire straits, and has been since Tania disappeared into the mortal world five centuries earlier. Her return can, perhaps, set things right – except that it is all so complicated. Oberon is missing; Tania is told that her mother died at the same time Tania herself disappeared; the boy Tania was falling in love with in the mortal world appears in Faerie under a different name, and turns out to be a servant of the man Tania was supposed to marry five centuries earlier; that man may not be what he seems to be; and so on. Each of Tania’s sisters has a unique talent, and Tania’s is to move between worlds – but that creates perils that Tania herself only slowly discovers. And is she Tania, or Anita, or some combination of both? One of the wonderful aspects of Frewin Jones’ book is the contrast between the slangy speech Tania brings to Faerie and the comparatively highfalutin way in which the full-time inhabitants speak. Jones has clearly done her reading in Faerie lore: a gorgeous gown is made for Tania by “Mistress Mirrlees,” which sounds like a Faerie name but is in fact the name of author Hope Mirrlees, whose wonderful novel Lud-in-the-Mist is little known except to serious students of fairy tales and those who truly love the genre. The Faerie Path is filled with adventure and drama, but it also retains a sense of humor, resulting in a completely delightful read.

      Wildwood Dancing is more serious and more exotic. Juliet Marillier’s first fantasy novel for young readers is every bit as complex and wonder-filled as her award-winning historical fantasies for adults. There are elements of historical fantasy here, too, but they serve mostly as background: the tale is set in Transylvania, that part of Romania now firmly associated with Dracula but in fact having a much longer history than most readers of Bram Stoker’s famed 1897 novel know. In this book too there are sisters (five), and an absent head of household (their father), and a caretaker household leader (cousin Cezar) who may not have the sisters’ best interests at heart. The focus here is not on the youngest sister, however, but on the second-oldest, Jena, and on the mysterious frog with which she likes to roam the forests near Piscul Dracului (Devil’s Peak), where the family lives. There is a gateway in this novel, too: a hidden portal through which the sisters can pass at every full moon, to dance with the magical creatures of a realm they call the Other Kingdom. When Cezar starts to show his true colors, when one sister falls in love with a creature of the Other Kingdom, it is left to Jena to try to save her world – and the Other Kingdom as well. Jena’s quest for peace takes her through hardship and tests of trust and strength. But the frog holds the key to her success – one of the keys, anyway. Wildwood Dancing is wonderfully atmospheric, its Romanian setting as fascinatingly depicted as anything in the Other World. And this book, like The Faerie Path, has someone leaving our world and becoming a fairy princess – but that someone is not Jena. Both these book open readers’ eyes to what Marillier calls “a wondrous world of magic beyond” – a world that both authors make seem remarkably close to our own.

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