________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 12. . . . February 14, 2003

cover An Earthly Knight.

Janet McNaughton.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2003.
255 pp., pbk., 2003.
ISBN 0-00-639188-5.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***1/2 /4

Reviewed from advance reading copy.


Jenny looked down at the dress. She could not bear to leave without it. "It would be a risk," she said slowly. Then in a rush. "But I am willing to try. Oh, thank you. No one has ever given me anything so fine." She suddenly felt shy. "I will return it, of course."

He waved this away. "No need for that. I mean for you to have it."

Jenny suddenly had a terrible thought. What if the dress had belonged to his mother? "Will anyone is Roxburg know this dress? Your grandsire, perhaps? Surely anyone who saw it before would remember."

"That dress was never seen in Roxburg. I promise you."

Something in his tone made it impossible for Jenny to ask where the dress came from.

"Can I give you anything in exchange?" She spoke innocently but immediately blushed to think what her words might mean to a young man.

An Earthly Knight is the spooky, ancient tale of Tam Lin, the Scottish lord who hits his head in an accident as he is thrown from his horse. The queen of the faeries saves his life but ties him to her with a powerful magic spell that can only be broken by his own true love. This is also the story of Jeanette (Jenny) Avenel, the headstrong daughter of a Norman nobleman in Teviotdale, Scotland. The peaceful quiet of the countryside around Carter Hall, an abandoned and derelict castle where Jenny goes to deal with the stress in her life is disturbed as Tam Lin returns to claim his old home. Jenny's older sister, Isabel, who has been disgraced when she kills a knight who has betrayed her, finds true love with a visiting harpist. Jenny's brother helps her navigate through the politics of an arranged marriage to William, the future King of Scotland, while the church representatives and her father negotiate over her future. At first, heady with the thought of marrying a future king, Jenny gradually realizes that she prefers Tam Lin's gentle, considerate ways. In the end, she finds the inner strength to reject William and to save Tam Lin from the faeries.

     Although the core of An Earthly Knight is an old Scottish faerie tale, Jenny and Tam Lin's story is steeped in the world of 12th century Scottish nobility. Jenny's days are full as she takes her dead mother's place in the management of day to day life in a countryside manor, responsible for the food served and the organization of the servants.

     This is fantasy at its best, never explaining, just letting the story unfold, surrounded with the rich details of the past, from hunting falcons to jousting to after dinner singing. The position of women - as chattels - will be horrifying and fascinating for today's young adults, especially the girls. It is difficult to believe that women were routinely used as bartering chips for families intent on gaining more power and money. That they retained a strong sense of self and were sometimes able to control their destiny is testament to the strength of women's characters and determination.

     The happy theme of true love dances its way through An Earthly Knight. Both Isabel and Jenny find true love with men who are quiet, considerate, and honest - men with inner nobility - while they ultimately reject power, money and pretense.

     This review was based on an advance copy of the uncorrected proofs with copy errors that will no doubt be corrected before publication. The present cover is designed well (great font!) but the fuzzy, oil painted illustrations are unfortunate and will not attract any reader at all let alone the fickle middle school reader. In its present form, the book will require intense selling by librarians and parents if it is to reach its intended audience, which is too bad as once again Janet McNaughton creates a compelling world in which young people struggle and triumph.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall, a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB, chairs the Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award Committee.


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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364