Title: The Seventh Magpie
Author: Nancy Chase
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade Reader
On the day she's about to be sent to an abbey, Princess Catrin receives a valuable gift from her mother: a little golden book encrusted with jewels that contains the Best Story in the World. The book is magic, given to Catrin's mother by the Magpies, shapeshifting birds who cast powerful illusions. The Magpies warn Catrin never to read more than one page a day.
She doesn't listen.
In the aftermath of a tragic disaster, Catrin goes on a quest to recover the Best Story in the World. But second chances don't come easy. The Magpies strike a bargain with Catrin. Every day for seven days, she must answer a riddle--and if she fails, she will lose what's most precious in the world to her. Catrin accepts. Little does she know that she'll have to fight harder than she's ever fought before if she wants to win the Magpies' game.
I assumed this would be a simple, light-hearted little children's story.
You can't blame me for thinking it would be simple. The story begins with a classic fairy tale set up: Princess Catrin is unhappy. She's spent most of her life locked away and neglected; she finds true love, only for her father to force her to marry someone else. Her unhappiness leads to disaster, but surely it's nothing a little magic can't fix?
Since this is a fairy tale, magic just happens, without rules, without reason, and the characters just go with it. For the most part, I went with it, too, though I did have a few nagging questions, such as: What was the book supposed to do? Why did her mother give it to her? Was it really worth the mess it caused?
Initially, I thought the characters were a bit one-dimensional. Catrin, in particular, didn't seem able to do anything for herself. I wasn't impressed with her. But I liked the riddles, and I cared enough about the characters to keep reading.
And then, around Riddle #4, things started to get dark.
By dark, I don't mean violent or gruesome. Instead, something happened that made me realize the chaos Catrin unleashed had real, deadly consequences. Suddenly, I began to wonder if magic really would tie everything in a nice, neat "happily-ever-after" bow.
I have to say, I liked the darkness. As the story progressed, the riddles became more personal, the conversations more philosophical. Catrin suffered more, lost more, worked harder, made difficult decisions, and ultimately grew into a complex, fully-realized character.
The ending left me stunned. I didn't know what was real and what wasn't. But I didn't really mind. The story moved me and lingered in my mind. It was an imaginative, fast-paced tale, and it made me feel, which to me is the number one thing.
By the way, kudos to Katrina Sesum for the lovely, full-page illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. I wanted to print them out and color them.