A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
What's the story?
Briony is a witch and hates herself for her dark secret. She blames herself for causing her stepmother’s death, breaking her twin sister’s mind, and bringing heartache after heartache to her family. She feels unworthy of the friendship and kindness offered by handsome Eldric, newly arrived in the Swampsea. When her twin, Rose, falls ill with the deadly swamp cough -- sent by the Old Ones to punish the children for efforts to drain the swamp -- Briony realizes the only way to save her sister’s life is to reveal her secret -- and risk being executed.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of romantic fantasies. Why is this such a popular genre for teens, particularly for girls? What other books have you read that fit into this genre?
This has many classic elements of romantic novels: a dashing new arrival, a rival suitor, and a strong-minded heroine who, in the end, is relieved to find comfort in the arms of the one she once tried to keep at arm's length. Does this book fit the archetype exactly -- or is it different in any way? Did you find the ending satisfying?
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