Friday, April 11, 2008

Vivian Vande Velde

Dragon’s Bait
by Vivian Vande Velde
Recommended Age: 14+

Alys is the daughter of a village tinsmith, who is too poor to afford an apprentice, and too ill to do his work alone. So Alys violates the social norms of her society by learning to make tin buttons for her father. She is guilty of no more than that. But one day a covetous neighbor levels a wicked accusation against Alys, and a sleazy inquisitor condemns her as a witch. Abandoned by her friends, having watched her father die of heartbreak, Alys suddenly finds herself lashed to a pole waiting for a dragon to claim her as a sacrifice.

So, it’s not a very good day for Alys.

But then the dragon comes, and he turns out to be young by dragon standards. In his human form, he appears as a gorgeous, seventeen-year-old boy. And instead of eating Alys right off, Selendrile offers her a chance to take revenge on the people who destroyed her life.

And so, paired with an ally she neither understands nor trusts, Alys seeks out the inquisitor and the witnesses who lied about her. What comes next is a suspenseful tale of danger – the danger not only of losing her life, but of losing her soul – as well as friendship, redemption, and forgiveness. It is one of those interesting, new-fashioned fairy tales in which you are gripped by concern for the heroine; and in which you are more concerned whether she will turn out to be a good person than whether she will survive the tale. Prepare for some surprises!

Wizard at Work
by Vivian Vande Velde
Recommended Age: 10+

From the author of such magical titles as The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, A Well-Timed Enchantment, A Hidden Magic, and Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, comes this quick little novel-in-the-form-of-short-stories about an unnamed, young Wizard who runs a school for young wizards, disguised as a bearded ancient. He reverts to his youthful form during the summer holidays, when he wants to putter in his garden, go fishing, and do little projects around his tower home, but people will keep coming around asking for wizardly favors. And a witch may or may not have put a curse on the Wizard: he will not find true happiness until he learns to see beyond appearances.

And so a succession of cracked fairy tales follows, in which the wizard learns a lot about seeing beyond appearances. A beautiful princess begs the Wizard to break a ridiculous but nasty curse. A plague of rebellious, yearling unicorns has to be stopped before things really get out of hand. A too-honest magical mirror, a dragon, and a princess who refuses to be rescued, combine in one squirm-inducing lesson in seeing beyond skin-deep. A castle needs to be rid of a dripping, inhuman ghost. And finally, the Wizard devises a quest to make a man worthy of the hand of a tomboyish princess-a quest involving a dwarf king's magic cucumbers.

The stories go by swiftly, but they are full of charm and laugh-aloud humor, spirited adventure, and the logic of mini-mysteries. They are also very instructive, as well as bracingly un-romantic. Sort of a tonic to the worst effects of having fairy tales on the brain.

EDIT: Vande Velde has written over 30 books, many of them with titles that interest me. Heir Apparent is already on my "getting around to it" shelf.

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