November 15, 2007


The Garden of Eve. By K.L. Going. Harcourt. $17.

The Kiesha’ra, Volume Five: Wyvernhail. By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Delacorte Press. $14.99.

The Runestone Saga, Book Two: Vendetta. By Chris Humphries. Knopf. $15.99.

Raleigh’s Page. By Alan Armstrong. Illustrated by Tim Jessell. Random House. $16.99.

      Fairy tales, at least those newly written for preteens and teenagers, sometimes shade over into the region of heroic fantasy, so it can be hard to tell where one genre ends and the other begins. It may also be irrelevant if the books are engaging and well written – as, for the most part, all of these are.

      The Garden of Eve, for ages 8-12, is closer to a fairy tale. The first action here is a journey. The first words, though, hint at what is to come: “Once there was a beautiful garden.” Those words are part of a bedtime story that Evie’s mother is telling her; but when the action proper starts, there is no garden and no mother: she has been dead for seven months, and Evie and her father are moving far away, to a new home in a town called Beaumont. Her father, distant and preoccupied at the best of times, is getting a great price on a large parcel of land whose fruit trees have stopped producing because, the locals believe, there is a curse there. The elements of magic start to emerge and coalesce, as Evie gradually begins to heal from her grief over her mother, helped by meeting a boy who calls himself Alex and by the arrival of a mysterious seed from someone Evie has never met. Thanks to the seed, Evie and her friend are able to enter a world filled with both magic and peril. “If you’re not going to believe, then you ought to go home” – but what it means to go home is K.L. Going’s real question. Her book is partly about coping with grief through stories, and partly about what a story really is: “‘But this isn’t a story, is it?’ Maggie said. ‘It’s true.’ Evie shook her head. ‘It wouldn’t be true to Father.’” At the end, as at the beginning, it is a story from Evie’s mother that provides a special touch of charm and warmth.

      Wyvernhail lies somewhere between fairy tale and fantasy. The fifth and final volume of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ shapeshifter saga, The Kiesha’ra, it concludes the Capulets-and-Montagues story about the part-human, part-animal races known as the avian and serpiente. Following Hawksong, Snakecharm, Falcondance and Wolfcry, Wyvernhail focuses on Oliza Shardae Cobriana, who is trying to rule a united land of the feuding races even though their mutual hatred – as events in the book show – has scarcely been extinguished. Attempting to heal the problems of her own court, Oliza is kidnapped and taken into wolves’ territory to face a new set of challenges. “Oliza is more than my daughter,” her mother says at one point. “She is more than a princess; she is a symbol of a dream that took thousands of years to bring about…” But the fate of the shapeshifters rests not only with her but also with the outcast Hai, child of a falcon mother and cobra father. Followers of this series for ages 12 and up will find that the conclusion neatly knits its many strands together.

      There are strands aplenty in The Runestone Saga as well, and it too is for ages 12 and above. In Chris Humphries’ first book of this series, Fetch, Sky learned how to use runes to travel back in time – then discovered that grandfather Sigurd, who taught him, has secret plans to use the runes for personal power. This is not exactly an original plot; nor is what happens in the saga’s second book, Vendetta, in which Sky knows he must learn from ancestors other than Sigurd so he can strengthen his psychic powers enough to be able to challenge his onetime teacher. This book’s title comes from Sky’s discovery of the power of the vendetta in his family, a discovery that ties into his decision to travel back in time to the 16th century and occupy the mind of Tza, a strong-willed and fierce girl. The interplay of history and mythology here can get a little confusing, but the blend of power hunger, ruthlessness and Norse lore is certainly a heady one. Fans of this book will be eager for the next, Possession.

      A more straightforward historical novel for slightly younger readers, ages 10-12, Raleigh’s Page is set in the same time that Sky visits but in very different places. Eleven-year-old Andrew Saintleger, the central character, becomes the page of Sir Walter Raleigh after Andrew’s father sends him to London from their rural home. The interplay of real and fictional is well handled as Alan Armstrong shows Raleigh arguing to Queen Elizabeth about the importance of challenging Spain in the New World, with court intrigue on all sides. Andrew is tested in many ways, finally earning a spot aboard the Tyger for a journey to Virginia. The specifics of what Andrew faces in England, on the journey and in the New World are interesting, but the lessons he must learn – about courage, strength and kindness – are nothing particularly new or special. Still, they are worth reiterating for readers in this age group, even in the fantasy setting of historical adventure.

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