CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 24. . . .February 25th, 2011.
Captured. (The Divided Realms, Book 1).
Maggie L. Wood.
Montréal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2011.
284 pp., pbk, $12.95.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Joan Marshal.
Reviewed from Prepublication Copy.
***1/2 / 4
The rest of the story gripped Willow. She could hear Nana's lilting voice telling it to her as a bedtime tale:
The moment the Game spell took effect, all magic was gone from the land, taken from mages and healers and given to the queens. But neither Queen Aleria nor Queen Morwenna would use their powers to attack the other. They refused to play the Game and, instead, continued with their lives and allowed their two children to wed. All went well for the first year. The queens learned to use their powers and went about their kingdoms helping the sick and needy, casting the crop spells and teaching people old ways of threshing, brewing, and baking that didn't require magic.
When their granddaughter, the infant princess Willow, was born, both kingdoms celebrated with two days of feasting. But on the fourth day, a terrible tragedy occurred. The princess Diantha was found lying in her chamber beside a bloody dagger, her body turned into a Black pawn. Rumors spread quickly, and before King Ulor could send word to Keldoran, King Tarrant had already been informed of his daughter's death. He was told that the Gallandrians had murdered her to insure that she would never reach the back rank of the Game, and thus never be queened. He immediately sent an army to attack Gallandria. Queen Morwenna tried to stop him, but it was no use. King Tarrant was like one bewitched.
Queen Aleria and Prince Alaric, on their way to explain to the Keldorians what had happened, met Tarrant's forces, were captured and transformed into chess pieces. King Tarrant ordered King Ulor to hand over the child or go to war. King Ulor tried to reason with him, but to no avail. In desperation, he was forced to send his newborn granddaughter and her nurse to another realm.
So there you had it. Willow gulped, fighting to maintain her calm. She was a four-month-old infant princess from another realm, trapped by a psychotic immortal being into being a player in a magical chess game, and, according to some faerie queen, the only one who could break the spell. Nothing crazy about that.
In this complex fantasy, 15-year-old Willow Kingswell has been brought up on earth by her "grandmother," but Willow is, in reality, a princess of Gallandria, a city in the magical realm of Mistolear. She is summoned back to Mistolear to play in a deadly game of chess set up by the cold dark faerie Nezeral, a game in which humans play the roles of the chess pieces, with sad results. Willow's new Mistolear friends, Brand, Malvin and Gemma, protect and inspire her while she learns how to wield her power, finally turning Nezeral into a baby in an ingenious move that ends the chess game and restores her parents and Brand back to life. The faerie queen, Queen Cyrraena, offers Willow a seat on the faerie council, setting up a new adventure (continued in The Darkening, the second book in the series).
Willow is a compelling character, compassionate, brave and whip smart. At the same time, her self-deprecating wit and lateral thinking will endear her to the intended reader. Willow learns how to be a loyal friend, how to accept help and how to manage her new magical powers with wisdom and forethought.
Secondary characters escape stereotyping through their character flaws: the White Knight (Brand) hides his love for Willow through his sarcasm and anger at Willow's daring impulsivity. Nezeral, the evil faerie, is stunned by Willow's powers and slyly questions how she learned them. Gemma, the servant, stoutly and rashly stands up for Willow and becomes her friend. Even the kings and queens of Mistolear reveal their weaknesses as jealousy and grief drive them to rash decisions. In a powerful message to girls, Wood's female characters persist in the face of danger and evil and look for alternatives to violence.
The frozen beauty of the magical world of Mistolear will appeal to Canadian students and seem exotic to readers from warmer countries. The medieval setting of Mistolear will draw those readers fascinated by a time dominated by the contrast between the suffering poor and the privileged wealthy. Wood washes the reader with smells and sounds that build enriching, convincing detail.
Although the plot is complex and the characters are numerous, there is only minimal narrating by characters to explain the back story. Mostly, it just happens in front of the reader's eyes, glorious, heart stopping and full of emotional tension. The characters are tolerantly accepting of Willow's earth upbringing and her casual speech that occasionally jars against the more formal, considerate language of the other characters. Because the story is built around the game of chess, a clear understanding of the game will add to the reader's satisfaction. Today's popular red, black and white colours are employed on the cover to highlight the title and the chess motif.
Captured's a totally satisfying fantasy that will inspire good middle school readers to immerse themselves in other worlds.
Joan Marshall is a bookseller in Winnipeg, MB.
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