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Check It Out

Courier Article by Cheryl Soper
Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fantasy Novels Conjure Up Great Adventures, Characters

The midsummer excitement over the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has died down, but fantasy remains a perennial favorite read for teens. Strong female characters drive the action in many of today's young adult fantasy novels. Here are some recent examples by first-time authors.

The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill (The Chicken House, 2005).

Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield is the battle-trained Queen of the Icemark. Only fourteen years old, she inherits the crown when her father dies in a desperate attempt to buy time for his people before the winter storms stall the invading armies from the south. Vastly outnumbered, the young queen and her advisor Oskan the Warlock venture north, seeking alliances with the creatures dwelling there: the Wolf-folk, the undead subjects of the Vampire King and Queen, and the majestic Snow Leopards. This stirring adventure is part quest, part intrigue and punctuated with heart-pounding battle scenes.

One thing I particularly like about this novel is the warm relationship between Thirrin and her father, Redrought. It gives both characters dimension and provides a believable source for the strength of character Thirrin shows in taking up the defense of her people after her father's death.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Random House, 2003).

In Ember, the sky is black, the lights flicker and go out periodically, and everything needed for life—food, clothes and light bulbs—is in short supply. Schoolchildren are taught that Ember "is the only light in the dark world. Beyond Ember, the darkness goes on forever in all directions." But Lina dreams of a white city where tall, gleaming buildings touch a blue sky. Then she finds a cryptic message hidden in an old locked box. She thinks it points to a way out, but her friend Doon is not so sure. He wants to find a way to fix Ember's ancient generator. Either way, they must find a way to save the people of Ember from the decay and corruption that threatens them. The story continues in The People of Sparks (2004).

The Cup of the World by John Dickinson (David Fickling Books, 2004).

Phaedra has always seen a man in her dreams. He spoke to her, and together they drank from a cup and sealed their bond. When he reveals himself as Ulfin the March-count of Tarceny, she believes she already loves him and quickly consents to marriage. Ulfin has many dark secrets, and soon Phaedra cannot ignore the dangers of his dabbling with unseen powers. Within weeks, Ulfin's attentions have turned from Phaedra to the business of war, and her father is dead in the conflict, as are the king and his heir.

The outward ravages of war are scarcely seen in this book, but the inner conflicts that produce it are present on nearly every page. Greed and revenge, naivete and fear are the spiritual grounds of the battle. More consequences unfold in the sequel, The Widow and the King (2005).

The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle (Henry Holt and Co., 2003).

Recently orphaned Kate and her little sister Emily become lost one night in the hills surrounding their new home. When a tall cloaked and hooded gypsy offers to see them home, Kate is wary. Soon Kate learns that the "gypsy" is actually Marak, the king of the goblin race, who intends to make her his bride. Marak is alternately charming, flattering and arrogant in his attempts to persuade Kate to accept his proposal, but it is ultimately her fears for Emily's safety that compel her to accept the powerful goblin king.

Dunkle wrote this novel and its sequels, Close Kin (2004) and In the Coils of the Snake (2005), as letters to her two teenaged daughters, who were attending boarding school in Germany. It is not surprising that the emotional journeys of the characters are full of the self-discovery essential to coming-of-age. Read these novels as fantastic journeys into another world, but also as a journey from childhood to adulthood.

Cheryl Soper is the teen services librarian at Central Library. She can be reached at (812) 428-8229. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.