A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The villagers' mob-like behavior toward suspected witches might inspire readers to learn more about how suspected witches have been treated in the past. Readers who enjoy this book may be inspired to read other romantic fantasies (see our list of recommended romantic reads).
Briony has much to learn about mercy and tenderness -- particularly for herself. By the book's end, she is learning just how hard that work can be. Readers will find themselves thinking about how we shape our views of ourselves and our world, and how reality can be far more complex than we realize.
Positive Role Models
Briony is smart, brave, and fiercely independent. Though she is often misguided, her intentions are good. She has a strong sense of right and wrong and is a harsh but fair judge of character. Despite his bad-boy reputation, Eldric’s mischief-making is relatively harmless. His empathy and open-heartedness -- offering company to a woman who’s lost her young child, tending to Briony when she’s ill, being patient and accepting of Rose -- make him a fine model of friendship.
Violence & Scariness
A suitor tries to force himself on Briony, and a rival fights him off; Briony badly beats a boy who jeers at her twin sister; an innocent girl suspected of being a witch is hanged; one character is murdered; the swamp is full of dangerous beings that can seriously injure or kill people -- and do.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few mild romantic situations and references to feeling lustful, and one holiday night is described as being the cause of many abrupt weddings.
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A few uses of “bitch” and “bastard.”
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An alehouse is a central meeting place in the village, and several characters drink -- some heavily, and with ugly consequences. Briony, 18, occasionally drinks and gets intoxicated once. Some characters take arsenic as a drug.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this supernatural tale has a fair amount of violent elements, including dangerous spirits in a swamp, the grisly death of an adult, the maiming of two characters, the hanging of an innocent girl, an emotionally manipulative parental figure, and more. But all this darkness is woven into a very good mystery tale that closes on an uplifting, hopeful note.
Is It Any Good?
Author Franny Billingsley writes with a poetic, enchanting voice, weaving magic with delightful use of language. Her characters are strong and, for the most part, appealing. Sensitive readers will find themselves rooting for smart, brave Briony, trapped in a prison of self-hatred, but the most vivid character may be the swamp itself, pulsing with mystery. Some of Billingsley’s choices are little odd -- the use of a colloquial, antiquated style of diction by everyone except the central figures feels forced and awkward, for example. But mostly this is a book that is a sheer pleasure to read.
Readers half as clever as Briony will very likely guess the book’s ending, but won’t mind a bit because the journey is so captivating. Some may be disappointed to find, in the end, a rather typical romantic convention at the heart of the story: The beautiful, seemingly independent heroine ends up needing -- and craving -- to be saved by her Prince Charming. But the misty, murky world of the Swampsea will linger long in readers’ hearts and minds.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.