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What's the story?
In the time of Oliver Cromwell, between Britain's Civil War and the Restoration, Coriander lives happily with her father, a successful businessman, and mother, an herbalist and healer. When her mother dies mysteriously, her father is forced to marry Maud, a Puritan woman, to keep on good terms with those now running the country. Moving in with her daughter, Maud soon enough reveals her true colors as a child-abusing fanatic.
Despite the marriage Coriander's father is forced to flee the country, and she is left alone with Maud and her vicious preacher friend, Arise. But she soon discovers there is much more to this whole Cinderella story than she had realized -- her mother came from another world, and Maud and Arise are being manipulated by an evil queen from that world who wants a magical item Coriander's mother left behind.
Is it any good?
Sally Gardner's first novel is a hodgepodge of elements, each interesting in its own right, that never really come together to form a coherent whole. One part is a historical novel about a girl growing up when the Puritans took over England. The second part is a fairy story, with a wicked queen in Fairyland, a prince bespelled into animal form, romance, revenge, and magic. It is the intersection of the two that just doesn't work.
The author must have had trouble with it too, as she suddenly wraps up the whole thing on the last two pages, with no explanation or reason for things working out the way they do, as if she had suddenly run out of ideas, couldn't get it to work, threw up her hands, and ended with "and then they all lived happily ever after." Though erratically paced and emotionally distant, there's a lot of vivid writing here, and perhaps with more experience Gardner will be able to construct a plot that makes more sense.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about ways that fear and religious fanaticism turn people against each other. How do the wicked take advantage of fear? How can attempts at being godly turn so evil? Why do ordinary people give in, go along, and turn on their neighbors? Families may be interested in researching the historical background.