Monday, March 10, 2008

Rafe Martin

by Rafe Martin
Recommended Age: Age: 14+

Perhaps you remember the old tale about the six princes whose stepmother turned them into swans, and the princess who had to spin nettles into wool, weave the wool into cloth, and sew the cloth into shirts for seven years, while neither speaking nor laughing, in order to bring them back to human form. And how the princess managed it, in spite of a cruel mother-in-law who framed her for killing her own children, while the poor girl dared to say nothing in her own defense. And how the swans came flying back just as the princess was about to be burnt at the stake, and she threw the shirts onto their backs and transformed them back into princes... except (Do you remember this part?) ...except the youngest prince, whose shirt was not quite finished, and who was left with a swan's wing on one side and a human arm on the other.

That prince was Ardwin, and that fairy tale is only the beginning of his story. To hear the next bit of it, read this book by the award-winning author of Foolish Rabbit's Big Mistake, The Rough-Faced Girl, and Will's Mammoth.

Ardwin is unlike his five brothers in many ways - not just in the number of feathers remaining on his body. They have left their seven years as swans well behind. But Ardwin cannot let go of the joy of flying, or the pleasure of being able to speak to animals in their own language. And even though at times he hates the wing, he learns to get by with it, even adapting the arts of archery, fencing, and horsemanship to the special case of having a bird's wing. So when a warlike neighboring king offers Prince Ardwin his daughter's hand in marriage - at the cost of his own, unique wing - Ardwin does more than refuse. He runs like hell.

It begins as a youthful prince's adventure, setting out to make his fortune, etc. It becomes a story about the formation of a great hero who goes through difficult trials, makes peace with his own heart, meets strange and wonderful people, overcomes terrible monsters, gets the girl, and saves the kingdom. That much ought to be familiar to fairy-tale fans. But how he does it is fascinating to read; Martin's writing is delightful in its lyricism; and the more you get to know Ardwin, the more you like him.

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