Posts Tagged YA dark fantasy
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s KINDRED RITES is the second book in a series about young Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson, a magic practitioner from an alternate, frontier version of Michigan. (The first book, NIGHT CALLS, was reviewed here).**
Because Allie is quite far out of the common way when it comes to magic due to her enormous power, she’s been apprenticed to her Aunt Marta and sent off to learn magic. However, she’s still close to her family and visits often — which is one of the reasons KINDRED RITES starts off with Allie back home, dealing with a poltergeist and wondering why she can’t seem to catch a break.
Even Allie, you see, sometimes wants to be normal. And normality, for 19th Century Michigan, whether it contains magic or not, means getting to know your neighbors as they may make the difference between life and death on the frontier. (It’s not all about politeness; it’s more about practicality.) So when an intriguing young man named Erik Hudson talks with her at a local dance, she takes notice . . . even though it’s not necessarily for the way she thinks at first.
See, Allie is way too young to date or court. And she knows it. But because she’s tall for her age, and accomplished, too, young men have started to sniff around her. Providing they’re polite about it — and Erik is oh, so achingly polite — all she can do is grit her teeth and bear it.
Allie’s aware that she’s different in this regard from her frivolous, yet fun friend Idelia, a girl who’s looking forward to marriage already, and enjoys pitting one pubescent boy after another against each other. Being different from her normal, non-magical friend makes Allie feel sad.
But Allie doesn’t have time for sadness. Despite her extreme youth, she’s already quite competent at midwifery and other healing skills, and is sometimes sent to deal with problems when Aunt Marta is not available. Note that Marta is not being negligent — it’s just that if there’s two births at once, it’s obvious that Marta must attend one while Allie must attend the other. As this is how apprenticeships of all sorts worked in the 19th Century, as teenagers were expected to be responsible (even as young as thirteen) while learning a saleable craft, this detail adds an additional level of verisimilitude.
But getting sent out by herself means Allie’s exposed to far more dangers . . . including kidnapping, which happens at the moment she least expects it. And even though she’s already known to Azrael, the Angel of Death, something that’s unheard of for a thirteen-year-old magic user, Azrael can only advise her if asked.
Will Allie be able to defeat the kidnappers and return home? Or won’t she? And what will she learn about herself along the way? All of those questions, plus many more besides, will be answered. But as usual in the books of Ms. Kimbriel, they’ll raise even more, intriguing questions.
Allie is a compelling character, who does what farm girls from that time period did (card wool, quilt, gather herbs, cook) along with her study of magic. Her world feels real, her studies feel real, and her exasperation at Idelia over Idelia’s mooning over boys feels real, too.
Furthermore, Allie’s world contains many dangers. Her talents aren’t so prodigious that she can’t be endangered — it’s precisely because she’s so talented that she is endangered. And because she’s more self-aware than most thirteen-year-olds, she’s aware of this, too . . . which heightens the tension of Allie’s efforts to survive after being kidnapped.
Bottom line? This is one of the best historical dark fantasies I’ve ever read. I deeply enjoyed Allie’s second tale, and plan to re-read it many, many times over the years to come.
One final thought: If you’ve not read any of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s books yet, what’s stopping you?
— reviewed by Barb
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS is about magic on the American frontier. As such, it’s both an alternate history and a fantasy. And as its protagonist is the young Alfreda Sorensson, it’s a story that’s meant for all ages.
So you’re to be pardoned if you think, “Well, Barb, come on! What’s so special about that? You’ve already reviewed Patricia C. Wrede’s THE FAR FRONTIER, haven’t you? Isn’t that the same thing?”
Well, yes and no. It is the same type of novel, for certain. But Ms. Kimbriel did it first, as the paperback edition of NIGHT CALLS first came out in 1996 . . . which means that if we’re about to have a showdown as to one-upmanship (really, do we need one?), Ms. Kimbriel would come out the winner even though both authors are well worth the reading.
But I digress.
More importantly than what specific type of novel NIGHT CALLS is — is it dark fantasy? Is it alternate history? Is it YA? Is it all of the above? (Yes, yes, yes, and yes . . . ) — you need to know one thing, and one thing only.
It was written by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel. So it’s extremely good.
The plot itself is compelling, mind you. Alfreda starts out at the tender age of eleven thinking she’s much like other girls, even though it’s clear from the start that she isn’t. She has a few friends, she loves to read, she loves her family, but a crisis that’s precipitated by a werewolf thrusts her magic into the picture far earlier than she would’ve liked. When her brother’s life is lost due to the werewolf, she wonders what good magic is — this mostly is subtextual, mind you, but it’s real and it’s there — which points out that no matter how much power you have, life is something that cannot be taken for granted.
This one thing helps to ground the novel from the start, and is a welcome change from many other contemporary dark fantasy novels. (Yes, Stephanie Meyer, I’m looking squarely at you.)
Alfreda’s adventures as she grows into her young womanhood — some quiet, some decidedly not — are excellent and rousing. She is not the type of young woman to sit on the sidelines and wait for men to do her work for her — no, she’s going to do for herself, thank you. And as she learns and grows, she also becomes more and more herself and happy to be so, which is why I found reading NIGHT CALLS to be both life-affirming and something that lifted my spirits no end.
Look. I know this sounds like I’m laying it on thick, but I’m not. Alfreda, for all her strengths — and she has many — is no one’s Mary Sue. While she’s exactly the type of young woman every parent would like to have, being resourceful and intelligent, she still has some weaknesses as she skews like a real person. And while she obviously has magic, she sees it as a responsibility, partly because she’s a farm girl at heart and is used to doing all sorts of chores.
So there’s the value of hard work. There’s the value of personal sacrifice. There’s the value of human dignity. There’s a good deal about religion and spirituality, discussed in a quiet, calm way that I found particularly appealing. And there’s a rousing action-adventure going on throughout that makes you forget about all of the above until the book is over and you start thinking about how wonderful it all was before you turn back to read it all over again.
Bottom line? NIGHT CALLS is excellent. Truly, truly excellent. It’s a can’t-miss novel with heart, style and wit that will please all ages. Guaranteed.
— reviewed by Barb