With its themes of Celtic folklore and mythology, supernatural bargains, transformative adventures, and complementary love interests, it's no wonder this Disney sequel is by Maggie Stiefvater. At first it was odd to see her name on a Disney tie-in book, but once readers dig into Bravely, it makes perfect sense why the critically acclaimed bestselling author took the assignment. She's already steeped in medieval lore (read pretty much any of her books, but in particular The Raven Cycle and The Scorpio Races), and all of her books include complicated family dynamics, stubborn and strong-willed young women, intense, broody, and god-like (in this case an actual god) young men (in this case a god who appears as different genders and ages to whomever he encounters). The vivid descriptions of medieval landscapes, architecture, and cultural norms are thorough and well-researched. More important, the character development and growth (built in to the premise) is lovingly depicted. That doesn't mean all the characters are always likable. Merida can be overly obstinate and even arrogant, Feradach infuriatingly quiet and seemingly indifferent, and the triplets, well, they're tween boys. Merida is also courageous and loving and fiercely protective of her family; Feradach cares more deeply than he should; and the triplets can also be mature, perceptive, and kind.
Leezie is a wonderful addition to the DunBroch clan. Although not a blood relation, she is Merida's sister. Always sweet and optimistic, she brings a joyful and generous heart to the family. She's also the comic relief in the serious proceedings of Merida and Feradach's yearlong bargain. Queen Elinor contains more layers than the movie uncovered. Of the three adventures, hers is a favorite, not only because it once again centers the mother-daughter relationship but also because it reinforces the idea that all sorts of women and girls -- not just the ones who wield bows and arrows and eschew romance -- can be empowered and empowering. Older Merida, like her film-based younger version, isn't interested in marriage, but that doesn't mean she doesn't feel attraction or love. While this book can't be categorized as a romance by the genre's standards, it does feature a memorable story about equals, partners, and friends who slowly fall in love in their own way.