I have a new title to add to my favorite reads of 2007. I loved Laini Taylor's debut novel Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer. Although it's quite long, I read it quickly, staying up well past my bedtime to finish. Blackbringer is the story of Magpie Windwitch, granddaughter of the West Wind. Magpie (aka Mags and 'Pie) is different from the other faeries. Instead of staying home in the safety of Dreamdark, a protected, wooded haven for faeries, Magpie journeys around the world hunting the devils that humans have released from once-sealed bottles. Magpie travels with seven crows who are her family and protectors.
An encounter with a new kind of devil sends Magpie back to Dreamdark for the first time since she was a small child. There she finds old friends and mentors, as well as new allies and enemies. She fights to protect her world from multiple menaces.
So what makes this book so special? I think Blackbringer has the four elements that make any great book: strong characters, engrossing plot, unique setting, and quality writing. First and foremost, Magpie is a wonderful character. She is stubborn and brave, with a variety of unique gifts and skills. She feels real, as she banters with her crow family. She's the epitome of valiant, all the more poignant because of her extremely small stature.
Magpie's supporting cast is enjoyable, too. I especially liked the young faerie prince Talon, who copes magnificently with a physical disability, and Magpie's childhood friend Poppy, who has a wondrous talent and a gentle manner. The crows are noisy and fun, and a certain grouchy scavenger imp periodically steals the show.
I'm not going to say much about the plot, because I don't want to give anything away. Let me just say that it moves along, double-quick, with surprises around every corner. At one point, in the space of a few pages, I was joyful, horrified, relieved, and weeping a few tears.
As for the setting, Taylor's faerie world peeks out enticingly from the hidden spaces of our own human world, fully three-dimensional. I've always enjoyed books where the magical world is overlaid on the regular world, rather than a completely separate sphere. I was particularly taken by the fact that Magpie considers humans' primary contribution to the world to be chocolate. But the point at which I was completely hooked was the scene in which Magpie enters the Dreamdark city of Never Nigh:
"The trees grew wild and strange here, of any shape the Djinn had a mind to try as they honed their treecraft. The trees were the city. Their roots wove across the ground like interlacing fingers and spiraled up into walkways and bridges. Everywhere paths meandered in hidden ways and from every nook and fissure in the bark sprouted fanciful spires. The massive arms of the yews were festooned with palaces and hanging gardens. Each generation of faeries had added its own flourishes and the grove was a marvel of towers and domes, balconies and catwalks, chimneys and carved gate and porticos and stained glass windows. For all the exotic places Magpie had been, no city could hold a candle to Never Nigh for sheer audacious beauty." (Page 64)
Never Nigh reminded me just a touch of Zilpha Keatley Sndyer's tree-top city of Green Sky (discussed here), but with more grandeur. I am certain that I would have been entranced by Never Nigh and its environs as a ten year old, perhaps even more so than I'm entranced today.
Beyond the characters, setting, and plot, the writing stood out to me from page one as a pitch-perfect combination of lyrical, expressive, and humorous. Taylor uses some unique dialect for the faerie speech, but not so much as to be overwhelming. For example, "shivered" is used as a verb for scared, "visioned" is used instead of "envisioned", and humans are called "mannies." I found this speech appealing without being overly precious. The crows speak with a bit of a drawl, like "'Pie, darlin', what is it?", and the young faeries are "lasses". Magpie speaks like you would expect a rogue faerie raised by crows in the wild to speak (if you had ever thought of such a thing). Here's an example, from a journal entry:
"The crows are mad shivered by the thought of him but my shivers are busy elsewhere, worrying about that snag, wondering where in the world he is and doing what. And there's something else. Like ever, I can't fumble up words to describe it, but the pulse -- it's been as strong as I ever felt it (Page 53)
I love "I can't fumble up words". One last example of Laini Taylor's writing:
"Vengeance had never been far from his thoughts all the thousands of years of his imprisonment, and now his time had come at last.
Doom dawned." (Page 15)
That's it for that last paragraph. "Doom dawned." Eloquent, don't you think?
And there you have it: characters, plot, setting, and language. This is one of the best books I've read this year. I'm only saddened because the sequel is not yet available. I've seen this book listed as both a children's book and a young adult book. I think that it will be fine for 9 and 10 year olds who are advanced readers, but the length and complexity could be daunting for some. There's a hint of a love story, and the tiniest bit of crude humor, but nothing that should bother middle grade readers.
However, I think that this book will really shine for readers from middle school and above. Themes about what makes up a family, loss, environmentalism, and coping with giftedness and physical disabilities will add to the more mature reader's appreciation of the book. And teens (and adults) will appreciate the subtle flirtation going on between two of the characters. I fear that it will be difficult to get teenage boys to read this book, what with faeries in the title and all. But I would try it on Lord of the Rings fans, and see what happens. Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer has a lot to offer, and receives my highest recommendation.
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: June 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the author, at the Chicago Kidlitosphere conference
Other Blog Reviews: A Fuse #8 Production, Check It Out, A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, The Wind is Free, Dwelling in Possibility, What You Want to Read, Readers' Rants, Wands and Worlds, Blogcritics, Miss Erin, and doubtless others. Blackbringer is a nominee for the Cybils in the fantasy and science fiction category.
Author Interviews: Shannon Hale (thanks to Liz B for the link)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.