The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse

256p. Algonquin. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781616205058.
RedReviewStarGr 4–6—In this read-alike to Lois Lowry's The Giver, Shannon Hale's Princess Academy (Bloomsbury, 2005), and the Pixar film Inside Out, Princess Jeniah has just been named Queen Ascendant in a land where everyone is always happy. Her dying mother tells her of an ancient warning: if any royal enters the foreboding Dreadwillow Carse, the Monarchy will fall. Meanwhile, Aon, a local villager, visits the Carse regularly, finding it a balm for the sadness and brokenness that she alone can feel. The girls form a partnership that becomes a powerful friendship: Jeniah seeks knowledge of the Carse, and Aon pines for the return of her father, recently spirited away by the mysterious Crimson Hoods. The Carse, they gradually learn, has a nefarious secret. Jeniah is eventually faced with a morally complicated decision that will test her loyalties and affect the future happiness of her kingdom. Chapters alternate among points of view, creating suspenseful cliff-hangers. Descriptive language abounds ("viscous ponds the color of tar burbled"), and an enigmatic tutor provides a venue for reflections on magic, power, and choice. The inclusion of diverse characters enhances the story: Jeniah and her mother are described as dark-skinned, and a royal petitioner casually seeks relationship advice for his same-sex romance.
VERDICT A thoughtful, atmospheric fairy tale that tackles the subtleties of ethics and emotions.

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