December 06, 2007

(+++) QUESTS

The Faerie Path, Book Two: The Lost Queen. By Frewin Jones. Eos. $16.99.

Warriors: Firestar’s Quest. By Erin Hunter. HarperCollins. $17.99.

Warriors: The New Prophecy—Book 6: Sunset. By Erin Hunter. HarperTrophy. $6.99.

The Pinhoe Egg: A Chrestomanci Book. By Diana Wynne Jones. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $7.99.

      The quest is a staple of fairy tales and heroic fiction, and authors seem to have an infinite number of ways of taking their characters hither and yon and back again. Actually, “hither and yon and back again” is almost exactly where Princess Tania, known in the human world as Anita Palmer, goes in The Lost Queen, for ages 12 and up. In Frewin Jones’ previous book, simply called The Faerie Path, 16-year-old Anita learned that she was the seventh daughter of Oberon and Titania and the only one who could set things right in the realm of Faerie, from which Oberon was missing and Titania had disappeared many centuries before. Torn between the mortal world and Faerie, Anita/Tania (the names are anagrams) eventually did set things almost right, using her unique ability to travel at will between the two worlds. In The Lost Queen, she sets out on a quest to resolve a major problem left unsolved at the end of the first book: Queen Titania remains missing, apparently lost somewhere in the mortal world after setting out to rescue her daughter – Tania herself – five centuries earlier. Tania’s search brings her into conflict with her mortal parents, causes confusion when she again meets her mortal friends, and reopens a danger that seemed conquered at the end of the first book, as it turns out that the sinister Lord Drake is not yet truly defeated. The Lost Queen is not quite as successful as its predecessor – many of the arguments and conflicts here are predictable or repetitious of ones in the earlier book – but Jones again writes stylishly and with a welcome dose of humor, which is so often absent in quest stories.

      Firestar’s Quest is very serious indeed. Billed as a “Super Edition” and structured as a story in itself rather than as part of the long-running sequences collectively called Warriors, the book follows the legendary leader of ThunderClan – a group of cats on which Erin Hunter focuses strongly during the various sagas she has built. All the Warriors books have essentially a single idea – cats behaving like the heroes of epic fantasies – with Hunter weaving a wide variety of webs to entrap young readers (the Warriors books are intended for ages 10 and older). Firestar’s Quest is quite a long book – more than 500 pages – and focuses on Firestar’s discovery that his warrior ancestors have lied to him on a crucial matter. He must leave his home in the forest to discover the truth, entering into what proves to be a lengthy and complex quest indeed.

      Things are somewhat simpler in Sunset, the sixth and final book of the series Warriors: The New Prophecy. Now available in paperback, this book shows the rising tensions outlined in the previous novel, Twilight, bursting into full-blown battle among the clans that have been living in an uneasy peace. The underlying trouble comes from a prophecy the medicine cat, Leafpool, has received, that “the lake will run red” before there is peace. The cats are already recovering from a badger attack, but the prophecy appears to indicate even worse to come. And indeed, the reappearance of an old enemy, bent on revenge, points toward a dire future for the heroic cats – unless they make the right choices to preserve their clans.

      The Pinhoe Egg, also for ages 10 and up and also now available in paperback, is all about choices, too. There is a Cat here as well – Cat Chant is one character’s name – but there is little further resemblance between this somewhat over-complex story and the straightforward tales of the Warriors series. The egg of the title is really the basis of a tale-within-a-tale: it is given to Cat and hatches into a fast-growing griffin. The primary story is about the distrust of Chrestomanci, the most powerful enchanter in the world, by both the Pinhoe and Farleigh families – and the ongoing feud between the families themselves. This is not a very good entry point to the Chrestomanci series, since many characters here have been introduced before (although others are new). The book will be best for readers already captivated by Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci tales; and it paves the way for new ones – perhaps focusing on an interesting element in this story, which involves ways to combine magic with technology.

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